Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

July 13, 2020

Paul Quinn College is launching a fully online 36-month undergraduate degree in business administration and public policy designed to educate a new generation of change makers.

The Urban Scholars Program will begin next month and is aimed at high-achieving students with “an urgent sense of purpose.” The program was co-designed by Paul Quinn College, a historically Black institution, and the Minerva Project, an ed-tech company that works with colleges to develop innovative education programs.

Urban Scholars will focus on addressing one of three challenges facing urban communities -- closing the multigenerational wealth gap through redistribution of capital, ending the prison-industrial complex through criminal justice reform or providing equitable and accessible health care to all.

Students will study year-round with the exception of a two-month winter break. In their second year, students will be expected to work 15 to 20 hours per week. Employers will provide subsidies and scholarships to students in their second and third years. For Pell-eligible students, the college anticipates less than $7,500 in loan debt for graduates.

“Students no longer want to sit in classrooms for four years and be lectured to over and over again. Instead, today’s college students want to engage in the world around them, from day one,” said Michael J. Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, in a news release. “This program, which focuses only on the most pressing issues of the day, is the future of interdisciplinary, challenge-based education.”

July 13, 2020

At least three more lawsuits filed late last week seek to halt a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement directive that would bar international students in the U.S. from enrolling exclusively in online courses this fall.

Under the directive announced last Monday, ICE would require international students to take at least some in-person coursework or otherwise face immigration consequences, including deportation.

California attorney general Xavier Becerra filed suit Thursday in the U.S. District Court for Northern California. A group of seven international graduate students filed suit Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. And Johns Hopkins University, in Maryland, filed suit Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

All three lawsuits allege violations of the Administrative Procedure Act and argue that the new ICE directive puts inappropriate pressure on colleges to hold in-person classes during the pandemic or otherwise risk losing thousands of international students. The lawsuit from the students says that ICE's "life-threatening action makes foreign students pawns in a political drama."

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have separately sued to block the ICE directive, and a hearing in that case is scheduled in the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts on Tuesday afternoon. A group of about 180 colleges filed an amicus brief Saturday supporting Harvard and MIT in the case.

ICE declined to comment on pending litigation.

July 13, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Suzanne Marchand, professor of history at Louisiana State University, explores how some objects may have more history that we realize. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

July 10, 2020

The attempt by Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, to unify his party with former challenger Bernie Sanders brought no major surprises in higher education policy.

A 110-page set of policy recommendations on a range of issues from climate change to education, crafted by representatives of both campaigns, called for canceling up to $10,000 in student debt relief per borrower during the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s far short, though, of Sanders’s plan to cancel all of the nation’s $1.6 trillion in student debt.

In addition, the joint proposal repeated Biden's previous proposal to excuse those making less than $25,000 from making monthly payments on student loans, without interest. For those making more, payments would be capped at 5 percent of their discretionary income. For both groups, any remaining loan balances will be forgiven after 20 years.

The task force also recommended that borrowers be able to have their students loans discharged through bankruptcy. And the recommendations reiterated Biden’s call to make tuition at community colleges and four-year universities free for those making less than $125,000, including undocumented students.

“Democrats believe that everyone should be able to earn a degree beyond high school, if they choose to, without money standing in the way,” the recommendations said. The task force also recommended doubling the size of federal Pell Grant awards, another position Biden had already taken.

In addition, the task force vowed to increase federal funding for programs that help first-generation college students, students with disabilities, veterans and other underrepresented groups apply to and complete college. It also called for providing grants to historically Black colleges and other institutions serving minorities.

July 10, 2020

The Pennsylvania State Board of Education on Wednesday approved, 10 to 5, a plan to create a community college in Erie County.

It will be the first new community college in the state in 27 years, according to a news release.

The plan was developed by Empower Erie, a nonprofit advocacy group, which argued that there was a great need for an affordable college in the area. Only 16 percent of local residents have some college credits, and only 8.5 percent have an associate degree, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

“We finally opened a door that had been slammed shut to underserved urban and rural communities in Erie County,” Ron DiNicola, co-founder of Empower Erie, said in the release. “We envision a world-class workforce development center that will serve as an economic engine to provide socio-economic mobility and equity for everyone in our community.”

There are other colleges in Erie County, but most cost more than $10,000 annually in tuition and fees. The proposal from Empower Erie said tuition for a full year would only cost about $2,400.

Advocates also cite the state's Community College Act of 1963, which called for every Pennsylvanian to be within commuting distance of a two-year college. The closest community college to Erie is 100 miles away.

However, a relatively new college that uses hybrid instruction and has no fixed campus opposed the creation of a community college in Erie. Northern Pennsylvania Regional College offers two-year degrees and workforce training programs, and it serves several counties, including Erie.

The college has a right to appeal the decision to approve Erie County Community College, according to GoErie.com.

July 10, 2020

A large group of universities, education companies, employers and nonprofits has teamed up to create a new resource for workers seeking alternative career options.

The SkillUp Coalition aims to connect workers who have been laid off or furloughed during the pandemic to training programs that will help them secure new jobs. The coalition’s platform, launched this week, recommends new career paths for users to consider based on a short questionnaire. The site provides average salary ranges for these roles, shares open local job ads and suggests training programs from education providers such as edX, Coursera and LinkedIn Learning, as well as degree options from institutions such as Southern New Hampshire University and the University of Maryland Global Campus.

“With unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression, front-line workers are trying to reorient themselves in the face of an uncertain future, and America needs an upskilling solution that meets the urgency and scale that this crisis demands,” said Josh Jarrett, executive chairman of the SkillUp Coalition. “In launching the SkillUp Coalition, we’re prepared to provide this solution by bringing together the best in training and education, employment, technology, and the nonprofit sector to reskill and re-employ front-line workers who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

July 10, 2020

Kenneth Marcus, assistant secretary for civil rights for the U.S. Department of Education, will step down from his position at the end of the month, a news release from the department said.

As head of the Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, Marcus led the department’s overhaul of rules for how colleges must respond to reports of sexual misconduct as well as the department's “vigorous enforcement” of a controversial December 2019 executive order from President Trump that instructed officials to consider some anti-Israel sentiment on campus to be anti-Semitic when investigating civil rights complaints, the release said. Marcus said in a tweet that he will be returning to “private life.”

“Throughout my tenure, OCR has reinforced its status as a neutral, impartial civil rights law enforcement agency that faithfully executes the laws as written and in full, no more and no less, focusing carefully on the needs of each individual student,” Marcus said in a written statement. “While I am sad to leave colleagues for whom I have so much respect and affection, I am heartened to know that I am leaving the institution in excellent hands.”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos praised Marcus in a written statement for “efficiently and effectively” resolving open civil rights investigations in education. OCR launched more than three times more “proactive civil rights investigations” in 2019 than the Obama administration did over eight years, the release said.

“I am so thankful for Ken’s strong leadership over the last two years,” DeVos said. “While we are sad to see him go, I know in his next professional chapter he will further build on his successful career of advocating for the civil rights of America’s students.”

Marcus will be succeeded by Kimberly Richey, principal deputy assistant secretary for civil rights, who will be acting assistant secretary, the release said.

July 10, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Stephen Underhill, associate professor of communication studies at Marshall University, explores one way that J. Edgar Hoover opened the door to Donald Trump. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

July 9, 2020

Citing financial challenges, Stanford University on Wednesday announced it will eliminate 11 of 36 intercollegiate athletics teams by the end of the 2020-21 academic year. The teams cut are men's and women's fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men's rowing, coed and women's sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men's volleyball, and wrestling.

Stanford said in a statement that 240 student athletes will be affected by the cuts, as well as 22 dedicated coaches. The university is eliminating 20 support staff positions as part of the reductions.

The university's athletics department is particularly large, with 850 student athletes, roughly 12 percent of Stanford's undergraduate population. It also has been very successful, having for 25 consecutive years won the Directors' Cup, an award from the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics for the most overall success in college athletics.

But Stanford said the cost of operating the department had led to a projected $12 million deficit in fiscal year 2021, which was likely to grow steadily in coming years.

"The COVID-19 pandemic and associated recession have only exacerbated the gap; before these sport reductions, our revised forecasts indicated a best-case scenario of a $25 million deficit in FY21, factoring in the effects of COVID-19, and a cumulative shortfall of nearly $70 million over the next three years," said a statement from Stanford's president, provost and director of athletics. "These projected deficits could become much greater if the 2020-21 sports seasons are suspended or altered due to COVID-19."

The total amount of incremental funding need to permanently sustain the 11 eliminated sports teams at a nationally competitive varsity level would be more than $200 million, according to Stanford.

"Today’s announcement brings the three of us great sadness, though we realize ours is nowhere near the level of pain and disappointment that our student-athletes, parents, alumni and supporters of the impacted sports are experiencing," the statement said.

July 9, 2020

North Carolina governor Roy Cooper recently signed into law a bill that will protect colleges from lawsuits related to campus closures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, including a swath of lawsuits demanding tuition reimbursements after colleges shifted to online instruction in the spring.

A new Moody’s report examines the law and its effect on North Carolina colleges. The report called the law “credit-positive legislation” and discussed the importance of tuition revenue to most colleges’ operating budgets.

“In fiscal 2019, the median reliance on tuition and auxiliary revenue as a percentage of overall operating revenue was 72.8% for Moody's-rated private universities and 48.2% for public universities,” the report states.

The University of North Carolina at Asheville, UNC Charlotte, UNC Wilmington, East Carolina University and Duke University have been named in lawsuits and will benefit from the law’s protections. The lawsuits against the University of North Carolina system institutions have been dismissed.

Colleges in Louisiana, Maine, New Jersey and Connecticut are calling for similar protections, the report notes.

“While the adoption of broader coronavirus liability protections would be positive for higher education institutions, it is possible that the measures will be challenged in court,” the report states.

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