Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 25, 2020

Billionaire Robert F. Smith announced earlier this week a new initiative that aims to limit student loans for students at historically Black colleges and universities, Time magazine reported.

The Student Freedom Initiative will launch in fall 2021 at up to 11 HBCUs -- the exact list of colleges is still being determined. The program will offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors an alternative to private student loans. Unlike a scholarship, students will be required to pay back the support they receive from the initiative through income-based repayments.

The initiative will launch with a $50 million grant from Fund II Foundation, of which Smith is founding director and president. The foundation has set a goal to raise $500 million by October, with the goal of creating a self-sustaining program through investments and graduates' repayments.

Similar income-share agreements have been criticized in the past. Skeptics argue that high-earning graduates could end up paying more than they would with traditional student loans and that such agreements lock students into long repayment terms. Supporters say that the programs are innovative ways to fund higher education at a time when concerns about traditional forms of student debt run high. The discussion is particularly important in this case because studies have shown student loan debt can be a particular burden for Black borrowers, with Black students more likely to default on loans than white students.

Smith made headlines last year when he donated $34 million to Morehouse College, paying off student debt for 400 graduates.

June 25, 2020

Marching band members and cheerleaders at colleges in the American Athletic Conference will not be permitted to travel for football games off-campus or perform on their home field this fall, according to The Commercial Appeal, a publication in Memphis, Tenn.

The gameday restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic are “believed to be the first” issued among the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I institutions, and will be re-evaluated as the football season proceeds, The Commercial Appeal reported.

The restrictions will affect the 11 member universities in the AAC. These colleges’ marching bands will be permitted to perform in the stands at home football games, possibly with reduced numbers, and will be required to practice social distancing, The Commercial Appeal reported. Spirit squads, including cheerleaders, will not be allowed on the field.

The restrictions were shared with The Commercial Appeal by an anonymous source on June 24. Bernadette Cafarelli, associate commissioner of communications for the AAC, said in an email that the conference will not share its official protocols and that they will be announced “at a later date.”

June 25, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, part of New York University Week, Luis A. Rodriguez, assistant professor of education leadership, looks into how teacher evaluation systems play a role in turnover. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

June 24, 2020

The influential chairman of the U.S. Senate's education committee, Lamar Alexander, is voicing support for additional funding for colleges and K-12 schools in the next coronavirus stimulus package to help them reopen.

During an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box on Tuesday, Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee and former president of the University of Tennessee, said Congress should makes sure the nation’s schools and colleges “have the money they need to open safely in the fall. I mean, the surest step back toward normalcy in our country is when 70 to 75 million college and high school and elementary school students go back to school. They need to go back. Their parents need for them to go back. And the economy needs for them to go back. So if we need more money for that, I'm for that.”

His comments came as discussions on an additional package are expected to begin in earnest after the Senate returns from its Independence Day recess in the middle of July, having less than a month to work out a bill with the House, before leaving Aug. 10 for another break when the parties will hold their conventions.

Republicans have balked at passing a stimulus as large as the $3 trillion HEROES Act that the Democratically controlled House has passed.

The remarks are a slight change from a speech Alexander gave on the Senate floor June 11, when he expressed openness to supporting additional education funding tailored for reopening schools and colleges. Referring to K-12 schools, he said administrators are reluctant to take risks. “I think it's in our interests to make sure that principals and school boards know that they'll have sufficient funds to open 100,000 public schools safely,” he said.

But Alexander also noted that Congress has already given billions to education in the previous coronavirus packages. If more funding is needed, “we need to be open to that,” he said. “But not before we see whether it's really needed.”

June 24, 2020

The Department of Education this week launched a new online reporting system that will require colleges to disclose far more information about gifts and contracts coming from foreign sources than they have in the past. Colleges are required under the Higher Education Act to report foreign gifts and contracts valued at $250,000 or more. The department says it is not currently receiving sufficient information to determine institutions’ compliance with the law.

Institutions will now be required to submit more information “about each reportable transaction involving a foreign source, such as whether the foreign source is a foreign government, a foreign legal entity, an individual who is not a citizen or national of the United States, or a person acting as an agent of a foreign source,” according to a press release from the Education Department.

The American Council on Education previously wrote to the department to express concerns about the expanded scope of information collection, and ACE separately urged the department to delay implementing expanded reporting requirements until after the COVID-19 public health emergency has passed. More than 30 higher education associations signed on to those letters.

The next reporting deadline for colleges is July 31. “It’s not a lot of time, especially with campuses being closed in the midst of COVID, to launch this new reporting model,” said Sarah Spreitzer, director of government relations at ACE.

The Education Department has opened investigations into at least eight universities’ compliance with foreign gift and contract reporting requirements. The department says the investigations have resulted in the disclosure of $6.5 billion in previously undisclosed foreign gifts and contracts since last July.

June 24, 2020

Eighty-five percent of college students said they are experiencing increased stress and anxiety due to the coronavirus pandemic and uncertainty about continuing their education, according to a survey conducted by TimelyMD, a higher education telehealth company. But less than a quarter of students surveyed said they have reached out to a therapist for help, which suggests an “awareness gap” about the availability of virtual counseling resources, a release from TimelyMD said.

“The hazy outlook for a safe return to campus only adds to the emotional toll of students’ sustained feelings of fear, uncertainty and isolation relating to the coronavirus,” said Alan Dennington, chief medical officer at TimelyMD.

Among the 502 survey respondents, who attend both two- and four-year colleges and are mostly between the ages of 18 and 23, their top three concerns causing heightened stress and anxiety were directly related to education and campus closures, the release said. Seventy-two percent said they “feel uncertainty of the future of their education,” and 60 percent reported difficulties with remote learning. Most students reported that a coping mechanism for them during the pandemic has been television and streaming services, and fewer are turning to phone calls, physical exercise or spending time outdoors, the release said.

June 24, 2020

Economic mobility metrics and rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, according to a new report from the American Enterprise Institute.

The report looks at the mobility rankings created by Opportunity Insights, a project led by Raj Chetty, an economist from Harvard University. Using an analysis method created by Sarah Turner and Caroline Hoxby, the report assessed how much geography impacts where institutions land on the mobility rankings.

It found that the greater the income disparity is in a state, the more likely it is an institution in that state will have a high mobility rate. Of the top 100 colleges on Opportunity Insights' rankings, 85 are in the 10 states with the highest level of income inequality. Those 10 states only hold 35 percent of all colleges nationally. California, New York and Texas are especially overrepresented in the rankings, with 75 of the top 100 institutions coming from those three states.

The 31 states that make up the three lowest quintiles for income inequality have only four institutions from the top-100 ranking.

The report also takes issue with the decision to group some university systems together in the Opportunity Insights data. The report uses the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a flagship campus, as an example, because it has a high graduation rate and median starting incomes for former students range from $17,000 to $92,000. In comparison, the University of Illinois at Springfield has a lower graduation rate and a smaller median starting income range.

Finally, the report notes that even slight changes to the definition of mobility can drastically alter the mobility rates of an institution. Opportunity Insights measures mobility as the number of students who move from the lowest income quintile to the top income quintile. Other researchers have broadened that definition to include the bottom two and top two income quintiles. Using that definition, New York University would drop from number 95 in Chetty's ranking to somewhere outside the top 500.

June 24, 2020

Information about indirect and nontuition college expenses is difficult to find, and these expenses are often the reason for financial hardship among students, according to a report from uAspire.

The report used data from more than 800 colleges and 150 students to understand the impact of costs like housing, transportation, food, laptops and other supplies. It argues that students need clear information about these potential costs while making decisions about college, but that is often hard to find.

“For many students, these additional costs far exceed the cost of tuition and fees, and they are unaware of them until they start classes,” Laura Keane, the report's lead author and uAspire's chief policy officer, said in a news release. “Even after maxing out federal student loans, students still face significant gaps to cover their true cost of attendance. Students pay their college bill first leaving them struggling to cover indirect expenses and make ends meet throughout the year. The financial burden on students has been growing since 2008 and will be compounded by the economic impacts of COVID-19.”

In a sample of 820 college websites, 39 percent did not include information on indirect expenses. Those that did used 58 different terms for indirect expenses.

Estimates didn't always add up, as well. The report found differences of $8,000 in indirect expense estimates from colleges that were only miles apart from each other. The lack of federal guidance on how to set the cost of attendance could be a reason for the inconsistencies in how colleges determine the estimates.

As a result, more than half of students reported paying more for indirect expenses than they anticipated, leading to many changing their food shopping or eating habits.

The report recommends several reforms to help students with this barrier, including increasing the funding of need-based aid, requiring transparency on this information, standardizing terms and definitions, and simplifying access to benefits.

Representative Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat, will host a briefing with uAspire on Thursday to present the report and recommendations.

June 24, 2020

Students who are also workers faced challenges even before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from the University of California, Los Angeles, Labor Center.

The report, done in partnership with the Dolores Huerta Labor Institute, collected 236 surveys from students at public colleges and universities in Los Angeles County in April and May. More than half of undergraduate students throughout the county work, many in low-wage sectors like retail. The report found that more than half of working learners had been laid off, terminated or furloughed, and more than one-quarter experienced housing changes due to the pandemic.

These challenges are impediments for a student population that, the report found, overwhelming values getting an education. Ninety-one percent of respondents said they think it's important to finish their current degree program, and more than half wish to pursue a graduate degree.

But students are often penalized for having to work, according to the report. Nearly 70 percent missed things like classes, assignments, study groups or team meetings because of work. Another 71 percent had missed at least one activity such as meeting with a professor, attending a campus program or receiving tutorial support because of work. This difficult balance led to 63 percent of respondents saying they experience high levels of stress, and 40 percent said they have thought about taking a break from college.

The report recommends colleges in the area take several steps to help working students, including providing support and accommodations while acknowledging the commitments that working and learning require, supporting paid internships, making college affordable for all, and addressing food insecurity.

June 24, 2020

A new episode of The Key With Inside Higher Ed looks at a possible steep decline in enrollments of international students and other possible disruptions U.S. colleges face this fall. To get an entrepreneurial take on what to watch in coming months, it includes interviews with two experts who have global perspectives on higher education and ed tech.

John Fillmore is chief strategy officer for Chegg, a learning platform company formerly focused on textbook rentals, which now offers credentials, online tutoring and more. The conversation with Fillmore drew from his background as a former planning and research official for California.

The episode also includes an interview with Doug Becker, the founder and former CEO of Laureate Education, a large higher education provider with a global footprint. Becker now leads Cintana, a partnership with Arizona State University to create an international network of universities.

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