California

Report: California Students Stressed

One of the largest surveys of students during the COVID-19 pandemic found that many are dealing with lost income, housing disruption and uncertainty about whether to return to college.

The California Student Aid Commission surveyed 76,000 students in all higher education sectors across California who submitted state and federal financial aid applications, including high school seniors who intend to enroll in college.

For many current students, the events of the winter and spring were life-changing. More than 70 percent of current students who took the survey report losing some or all of their sources of income due to the economic recession fueled by the novel coronavirus. Nearly half of all students faced disruptions in their living situations in the spring. A quarter of students dropped at least one course during COVID-19. An overwhelming majority -- 90 percent -- reported concern about the shift to online learning.

The majority didn't know about available aid in California for technology and living expenses. Fifty-six percent of current students said they knew of free or loaner laptop programs, although only 12 percent of those applied for that aid. Only 43 percent were aware of funding for living expenses. About 40 percent of those students applied for that aid, but only about half received it.

As a result of these stresses, current students are unsure about the future. More than 80 percent have changed some aspect of their fall plans or are still unsure of their plans. Still, less than 3 percent said they plan to not return to college in the fall.

The survey also asked about how students' college plans had changed after the pandemic. Before COVID-19, only about 3 percent didn't yet know where they would attend college. After the pandemic hit, that jumped to 15 percent.

Students are also more concerned about their financial and personal situations. After COVID-19 started spreading, they reported dramatically increased worries about paying for tuition and housing, as well as taking care of family members and taking full course loads.

Most incoming students also reported increased worry on the same issues. About one-third are concerned about attending a college far from home due to the pandemic.

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Report Highlights Struggles of Working Learners

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.

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New Podcast Episode With Cal State's Tim White

The Key With Inside Higher Ed is a podcast on the uncertainties both college students and colleges face in the coming weeks and months.

A new episode features Tim White, chancellor of the California State University system. White discusses the system's May 12 announcement that its fall term would be mostly online. Cal State was the first major U.S. university to make this move, and the announcement set off a flurry of news media coverage and debate among policy makers and college leaders.

White takes us inside this decision in the episode, and talks about how the system is trying to balance its two top goals of protecting the health and safety of more than 480,000 students and 50,000 employees while trying to maintain academic progress at 23 campuses.

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New Podcast Episode With Eloy Oakley, Karen Stout

The Key With Inside Higher Ed is a podcast on the uncertainties both college students and colleges face in the coming weeks and months.

A new episode looks at how California's community colleges are coping with the pandemic. The state has seen three million new unemployment claims filed in recent months and last week proposed a $740 million budget cut to its community college system.

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the system, which enrolls more than two million students across 115 campuses, talked with us about how the colleges are preparing for the fall and drawing from lessons learned during the last recession. He described how the system has become more flexible for students and why its leaders aren't counting on a federal bailout.

To help broaden Oakley's perspective to the rest of the nation's community colleges, we also spoke with Karen Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream and the former president of Montgomery County Community College.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020
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New Podcast Episode With Eloy Oakley, Karen Stout
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Calif. Athletic Association Suspends Competition for Fall

The California Collegiate Athletic Association, an NCAA Division II conference comprised of 12 California State University campuses and the University of California, San Diego, has suspended all sports competition for the fall of 2020, the association said. The announcement follows earlier news that the Cal State system is using a "virtual planning approach" for the fall semester.

The association cited the system's announcement and said the "utmost consideration for the health and welfare of our students, coaches, staff, faculty and communities" was behind the decision to drop fall competition.

"The CCAA member institutions will continue to advocate strongly to maintain NCAA championship opportunities for all of our student-athletes, including our fall sports, during the 2020-21 academic year and recommend competition resume when it is safe and appropriate to do so for all of its members," Gayle Hutchinson, president of Chico State University and chair of the CCAA Board of Presidents, said in a statement.

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Calif. Community Colleges Sue DeVos Over DACA Exclusion

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos exceeded her authority and violated the constitutional principle of separation of powers when she ruled undocumented and hundreds of thousands of other college students were not eligible for emergency grants in the CARES Act, the California community college system alleged in a federal lawsuit Monday.

The colleges and Eloy Ortiz Oakley, the system's chancellor, are asking the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to rule DeVos’s exclusion of the students from the aid is unconstitutional, and to grant an injunction preventing the Education Department from blocking the colleges' ability to provide the grants to students.

DeVos has come under fire for her interpretation that the stimulus package passed by Congress in March only allowed the grants to go to students who qualify for federal student aid.

The system said in a news release that the interpretation excludes about 70,000 undocumented students who attend California community colleges, including those who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children but who are allowed to live and work in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. However, critics like the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators said requiring students be eligible for student aid excludes many others, like those with below the minimum C grade point average required to get federal loans or grants, and others who are disqualified from receiving standard student aid for other reasons, like being in default in repaying student loans.

According to the lawsuit, the department's interpretation affects far more than undocumented students. It excludes more than 800,000 community college students in California, or more than half of the estimated 1.5 million students enrolled across the system in the spring quarter.

Asked by Inside Higher Ed earlier this month to explain why DeVos believes the CARES Act excludes undocumented and other students, a department spokeswoman pointed at two sections of the stimulus law. One instructs the department to divvy up three-fourths of $12 billion in the bill for higher education institutions based on their number of low-income Pell Grant students. The other tells the department to distribute the stimulus aid to colleges and students in the same way it now distributes student aid.

In the department's thinking, Congress, by making those references to financial aid, was telling DeVos it only wanted those who qualify for regular aid programs to get the emergency grants.

But according to the lawsuit, the CARES Act does not explicitly limit eligibility for the grants. As a result, the colleges argue it should be up to them to decide who should get the grants.

In addition to those denied the help, the suit alleged DeVos’s decision also hurts the colleges because they may have to use other funds to help the students, and the lack of aid could force some students to drop out, lowering the institutions’ aid and funding.

“The Department of Education ignored the intent of the CARES Act to give local colleges discretion to aid students most affected by the pandemic, and instead has arbitrarily excluded as many as 800,000 community college students,” Oakley said in a statement. “Among those harmed are veterans, citizens who have not completed a federal financial aid application and non-citizens, including those with DACA status.”

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Cal State System Planning for Virtual Fall

The California State University system is using a “virtual planning approach” for the fall semester.

Timothy White, the system's chancellor, announced the decision at a virtual Board of Trustees meeting.

Mikhail Zinshteyn, a reporter at CalMatters, first reported the news. The livestream on CSU’s website confirmed it.

White cited experts’ predictions that COVID-19 is likely to spike again at the end of the summer and again in flu season as the reason to take precautionary measures and to plan for virtual instruction to protect people’s safety.

However, he did leave open the possibility of resuming face-to-face instruction. As an example, he said the system needs to plan for virtual instruction even if fall classes resume as normal; if the virus resurges, they can quickly be transitioned to virtual courses.

But, most likely, courses will either use hybrid models or be solely virtual, White said. On-campus housing also will be limited.

Some courses, such as labs and clinicals, will likely stay in-person as resources allow.

“This virtual planning approach preserves as many options for as many students as possible,” White said. “Anything done on a campus this fall won’t be as it was done in the past.”

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Coronavirus Roundup, March 20-23

Everything you need to know about higher ed and the coronavirus to start your week in one easy-to-read package.

Fiscal Monitor for Troubled Palomar College

The chancellor's office of California's community college system has assigned a fiscal monitor to oversee Palomar College, KPBS reported Tuesday.

A state agency in November warned that the community college was at high risk of insolvency. The agency cited antiquated business practices and structures and processes leading to uncontrolled spending, which has outpaced revenue growth.

Palomar's Faculty Senate has voted no confidence in Joi Lin Blake, the college's president, over budget and other concerns.

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Improving Math Pathways

Colleges nationwide have been embracing developmental education reforms. A popular reform is math pathways, which places students in math classes that relate to their intended majors and abilities, rather than forcing all students to take the same math courses.

But there's some concern that this could track some students -- especially students of color -- away from more lucrative pathways, like science, technology, engineering and math.

A new report from Just Equations, a project aiming to improving math policies, looks at whether implementing new math pathways strategies can improve math success for students, especially those are traditionally underserved.

The report found that misinformation and self-placement created the most risk for inequity in the process of placing students in math pathways.

Misinformation can hamper students' abilities to choose equitable pathways, and self-placement can often lead students to avoid STEM math pathways due to math anxiety, according to the report.

Colleges can do several things to improve math pathways for students, such as increasing support strategies, like corequisite courses, and providing more support for undecided students to explore major and career options.

Just Equations recommends that colleges offer professional development to counselors and math faculty and extended counseling for students who are undecided on their majors and eliminate structural barriers that can lead to students pursuing lower-level pathways than they should.

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