Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 6, 2020

Inside Higher Ed is pleased to release today our latest print-on-demand compilation, "The New Normal: Finding Efficiencies & Managing Expenses." You may download a copy here, free. And you may sign up here for a free webcast on the themes of the booklet on Tuesday, Sept. 8, at 2 p.m. Eastern.

 

August 6, 2020

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid should be further simplified by automatically including more data from IRS filings, including exploring whether wage information from W-2s could be used, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators said Wednesday.

The group issued 13 recommendations on making the financial aid application process more streamlined and transparent, based on 10 policy papers it commissioned.

Among other recommendations, the group said that the online application portal, FAFSA on the Web, should explain to applicants that information about their families receiving public benefits would not be used against them. “Students may be reluctant to disclose that their family accesses public benefits to support their basic needs. The reasons may vary from general stigma around using such benefits to concerns about potential verification requirements,” the group said. “Students may also hold an incorrect belief that using public benefits will be counted as income in the financial aid calculation and limit the financial aid they will receive, or they may fear the information will be used against them in some other way.”

"While reauthorization of the Higher Education Act continues to move at a snail’s pace, it’s imperative that we keep forward momentum going and use this time to ideate, discuss, and coalesce around ideas that will have meaningful impact for needy students and families for years to come," said NASFAA president Justin Draeger in a press release. "Improving the FAFSA is a vital step to give college students the support they need to access postsecondary education."

August 6, 2020

Top Democratic and Republican senators are endorsing a proposal that would double the number of AmeriCorps positions nationally.

Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri who chairs the education appropriations subcommittee, and Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s second highest-ranking Democrat, endorsed the proposal Wednesday.

The bipartisan proposal is being pushed by Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, and Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi. The senators said in a press release they are trying to get the bill included in the coronavirus relief package Congress is struggling to pass this week.

Under the proposal, the number of AmeriCorps positions would double to 150,000 the first year and grow to 250,000 the third year.

August 6, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Loyola University Maryland Week, David Rivers, professor of biology, explores how insects can send crime investigators on the wrong track. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

August 5, 2020

Nineteen Democrats on the House education committee wrote Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday protesting her decision to withhold about $7 billion of emergency coronavirus grants in the CARES Act from undocumented immigrants and other college students.

DeVos’s decision, based in part on a federal prohibition on non-U.S. citizens receiving most kinds of federal aid, has angered Democrats. It is also a dividing point in the current stalemate in Congress over the next coronavirus relief package after Democrats called for reversing her decision in their proposal for the package, while the Republican proposal called for no changes.

In addition to undocumented immigrants, DeVos’s decision also precludes millions of other college students from getting the aid to help with housing, food and other costs. DeVos had barred those ineligible for student loans from getting the grants, including college students with poor grades and those who have defaulted on loans.

In the letter, Congressman Bobby Scott, chairman of the House education committee, and the other Democrats wrote, “The Department’s continued insistence on enforcing these restrictions will further harm vulnerable students and make it harder for institutions to provide effective support.”

August 5, 2020

Neuroscientist BethAnn McLaughlin, founder of the MeTooSTEM organization, admitted Tuesday to creating a fake friend on Twitter, running the anonymous account for years and then killing off the persona with a case of teaching-related COVID-19. McLaughlin’s followers suspected something was up after she held a sparsely attended Zoom memorial for the supposed late adjunct professor of anthropology at Arizona State University. The saga took science Twitter by storm as the fake identity, @Sciencing_Bi, had previously insinuated herself into people’s sexual harassment cases, updated followers on her coronavirus condition and defended McLaughlin against ongoing criticism that she was trying to own the general #MeTooSTEM movement.

McLaughlin has taken particular criticism for claiming that Sciencing_Bi was a member of the Hopi Tribe -- what some have called “digital redface.” She tried to distance herself from Sciencing_Bi when things began to unravel over the weekend. But she eventually told The New York Times through her attorney that she needs mental health treatment and that she takes "full responsibility" for her part in the fraud.

“My actions are inexcusable. I apologize without reservation to all the people I hurt,” McLaughlin said. “My failures are mine alone, so I’m stepping away from all activities with MeTooSTEM to ensure that it isn’t unfairly criticized for my actions.”

August 5, 2020

Curious about your college’s financial health?

A new interactive tool from the Hechinger Report and NBC News evaluates colleges’ financial stress at the end of the 2019-20 academic year.

The Financial Fitness Tracker was developed using methodology from The College Stress Test by Robert Zemsky, Susan Shaman and Susan Campbell Baldridge. The scores are based on enrollment, revenue, endowment and state appropriations data from the National Center for Education Statistics, as well as resulting projections from those data.

Public four-year universities are scored in four categories: change in enrollment of first-time undergraduate students, retention rate, change in the average tuition-and-fee revenue per student and change in state appropriations. Private, nonprofit four-year colleges are scored in the same categories, except change in the ratio of endowment to total expenses is swapped in for change in state appropriations.

Public, two-year colleges are scored in three categories: change in entering student enrollment, change in the ratio of tuition-and-fee revenue to instructional costs and change in state and local appropriations.

In an analysis of more than 2,600 colleges, the Hechinger Report found that more than 500 show signs of financial stress in two or more categories. The issue is not evenly spread throughout the United States -- 36 of those colleges are in Ohio and 26 are in Illinois. About half of colleges show steady enrollment declines since 2008, and a third of all four-year colleges brought in less revenue in 2017-18 than they did in 2009-10.

August 5, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Loyola University Maryland Week, Jeff Lating, professor of psychology, explores how a tool can reduce anxiety and stress at a crucial time. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

August 4, 2020

Unity College, which in May announced a plan to make it easy for students to pivot easily back and forth between on-campus courses and online, hybrid or remote learning, went a good bit further Monday, announcing it will have all of its students mix virtual learning and ground-based experiences "in the physical environment relevant to individual courses." Unity officials said the environmentally focused institution in Maine would look to sell assets that could include its main campus. (Note: This paragraph was updated from an earlier version to clarify the college's plan.)

“Going from campus-centered to entirely hybrid with no dependence on a fixed campus is the very essence of the type of innovation needed to succeed in today’s economic and educational environment,” said Melik Peter Khoury, Unity's president. “Eliminating a centralized campus allows us to meet Unity students where they are and offer face-to-face and online courses in multiple locations to best fit the learning experience.”

The Bangor Daily News reported Monday that the college had laid off 33 employees and furloughed another 20, about 30 percent of its staff. Khoury said that a significant drop-off in enrollment had forced the move to fully virtual learning and the layoffs. "While no one likes to see friends and colleagues lose their jobs, like so many colleges, we have been pushed to evolve faster than anyone could have anticipated or else face the sad reality of going out of business altogether," he wrote.

August 4, 2020

ACT shut down its registration for new tests last week amid problems with the registration system and a high demand to sign up. Registration was reopened Monday morning, but many students reported long delays. Our spot check of the registration system noted delays of five to 50 minutes.

A note provided by ACT said, "Hey there! You're in the right place, and MyACT is open for all. You're currently in a queue to get into the site. This is being done to help everyone flow in and out of MyACT, like traffic lights help drivers fairly and efficiently get to where they need to go. Here's how it works: Stay on this page to keep your place in line. Turn up your volume to hear a chime when it's your turn to get in. The screen will also change to show you may enter. Please note: You’ll have 20 minutes to access the site once it is your turn. If you don’t access it within 20 minutes, you’ll be moved to the back of the line. Hang tight on reaching out to customer support. Now that you're in line, you have the best self-service tools at your fingertips to do what you need to do."

ACT has also started to place students whose exams were canceled. Some students received new test placements up to 300 miles away from their homes.

"We’re continuing to increase testing space for fall test dates and waiting to hear back from test center coordinators to add seats to MyACT, so more seats could open up within their desired location," said an ACT spokeswoman.

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