Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 29, 2020

The University of Oregon and Oregon State University have mutually agreed to no longer refer to athletic events between the rivals as the "Civil War."

"Today's announcement is not only right but is a long time coming," said UO athletic director Rob Mullens in a press release. "Thanks also to our current student-athletes for their leadership and input during this process. We must all recognize the power of words and the symbolism associated with the Civil War. This mutual decision is in the best interests of both schools."

UO president Michael Schill thanked athletes who had raised concerns about the name. "We need to make this change to align the words and symbols we use around athletic endeavors with our shared campus values of equity and inclusivity," he said in the release.

June 29, 2020

Faculty at Washington & Lee University have proposed taking "Lee" out of the college's name, WSLS News has reported. The name refers to Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate States Army and former president of the university, who is buried on campus. Faculty have said they are working on a petition to send to the college's Board of Trustees, but that petition has not been released.

"The name is not just a symbol, but it represents an association and an allegiance with a dark past whose only place at this point in history is only in a museum," Domnica Radulescu, a professor of comparative literature, told WSET News.

The college administration has acknowledged concerns around the association with Lee, emphasized recent diversity and inclusion efforts, and created a cabinet-level position called director of institutional history and museums, but it has not directly spoken to whether a name change will be considered.

"We will continue to engage our community in the exploration of our history and its significant connections to American history, including the lives of African Americans at W&L and the roles Robert E. Lee played as both Confederate general and college president," President Will Dudley wrote in a message to campus.

The name change proposal has drawn criticism from a woman with ties to the university's early history. Tina Tabor, a descendent of Robert Alexander, president of the institution when it was called Augusta Academy, said she is very angry.

“I feel like because it’s a name, it shouldn’t be messed with. It’s history. If we don’t learn from our past, we’re doomed to repeat it,” she told WSLS News.

June 29, 2020

The North Carolina Legislature passed a bill on Thursday protecting universities from legal claims related to spring 2020 campus closures, The News & Observer reported Friday. North Carolina colleges will be protected from legal complaints demanding tuition or fees refunds due to the switch to remote learning and closure of campuses.

The new law will apply to public and private colleges for actions taken after March 26, as long as actions were done to protect public health in response to COVID-19 and the colleges provided remote learning options for students to complete coursework.

Colleges in the University of North Carolina system and Duke University have been sued by students seeking tuition and fee reimbursements. Those institutions have released prorated refunds for housing and dining services.

June 29, 2020

A federal judge has ordered Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to cancel the federal student loan debt of 7,200 Massachusetts students who attended Everest Institute, The Boston Globe reported Friday. Everest was part of Corinthian Colleges' chain of for-profit institutions.

The U.S. district judge ordered the department to approve a 2015 application by Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey, which originally asked the department to discharge the loans based on allegations of widespread illegal activity and deception by Corinthian.

In 2015, Corinthian went bankrupt and closed all its campuses, and in 2016, the college was ordered by a state Superior Court judge to pay $67 million in restitution for violating the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act. Despite this, the Department of Education continued to collect on federal loan payments for Corinthian students, which led Healey to sue DeVos for not acknowledging the state's application, resulting in last week's decision.

A statement by Healey last week said this was the first time a federal court had ordered a “borrower-defense discharge” of federal student loans, meaning it is the first time federal loans were ordered canceled on the basis that borrowers were misled or defrauded.

June 29, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Longwood University Week, Kevin Doyle, associate professor of education, describes better ways to treat addiction. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

June 26, 2020

The Associated Press on Thursday reported the Trump administration and a workforce committee led by Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser to the president, plan to release an executive order that would prioritize skills over college degrees in hiring by the federal government, which employs 2.1 million people.

Created by the administration in 2018, the 27-member American Workforce Policy Advisory Board includes leaders from higher education, large corporations, industry associations and policy makers. It was tasked with giving advice and recommendations "on ways to encourage the private sector and educational institutions to combat the skills crisis by investing in and increasing demand-driven education, training and re-training, including training through apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities."

Ivanka Trump told the AP that the forthcoming change in federal hiring would lead to a more inclusive and talented federal workforce. She encouraged the private sector to follow suit, the wire service reported.

“We are modernizing federal hiring to find candidates with the relevant competencies and knowledge, rather than simply recruiting based on degree requirements,” she told the Associated Press in a statement. “We encourage employers everywhere to take a look at their hiring practices and think critically about how initiatives like these can help diversify and strengthen their workforce.”

In late February, before the pandemic's toll in this country began in earnest, the Ivanka Trump-led committee had been preparing a national advertising promotion for postsecondary education and training alternatives to the four-year college degree.

Several recent surveys have identified substantial uncertainty among college students about being able to continue pursuing degrees, or about the value of a traditional college degree among U.S. adults who are struggling amid the pandemic and economic downturn, the brunt of which has been experienced by Black, Latino and lower-income Americans. Yet experts and research generally hold that a four-year degree remains the most reliable ticket to the middle class, perhaps most during economic turmoil, although only assuming students graduate and don't rack up too much debt.

For example, recent data from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System show just 20 percent of workers with a high school credential or less were working entirely from home in April -- 67 percent were not working remotely at all. In contrast, 63 percent of college degree holders performed all work remotely.

June 26, 2020

Top Democrats on the Senate committees dealing with education and tax revenue raised concerns Thursday that the IRS has continued to withhold owed student loan payments from borrowers’ tax refunds, despite a prohibition in the CARES Act.

Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, and his counterpart on the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee, Senator Patty Murray, asked the Treasury and Education Departments in a letter how much in refunds have been seized from borrowers since the passage of the coronavirus relief package in March.

Congress, in response to rising unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic, had in the CARES Act excused most student loan borrowers from making payments through Sept. 30. The act also forbade the Education Department from collecting outstanding student debt by taking it out of refunds, garnishing wages or through other involuntary collection measures.

Consumer groups, though, charge the debts are being withheld from tax refunds. Last month, two consumer groups, Student Defense and Democracy Forward, filed a federal class action lawsuit against U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, pointing to data on the Treasury website that $19 million has been seized and sent to the Education Department since April 1.

The Education Department has said it is working to get the Treasury Department to refund money it seizes to borrowers more quickly. Angela Morabito, an Education Department spokeswoman, responding to the letter signed by 28 Senate Democrats said the processing time to make refunds has dropped from several weeks to four to five business days. 

The department said it has also been working with loan servicers to get employers to stop garnishing wages for unpaid student loans. The number of employers doing garnishments has dropped by almost 99 percent, but the department acknowledged nearly 3,600 are still garnishing the wages of about 5,000 borrowers.

The senators wrote in the letter, “Unemployment is at the highest level since the Great Depression and millions of Americans are facing impossible financial choices. Congress recognized the financial strain on student loan borrowers and was clear in the CARES Act: student loan borrowers need relief during this ongoing economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

June 26, 2020

Several surveys examining students’ impression of the rapid shift to remote instruction in the spring semester have indicated dissatisfaction with the experience.

New surveys published this week delve a little deeper into the specific challenges students faced in the pivot to online learning prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and look at how they might be avoided in the fall semester.

A survey of over 15,000 students at 21 colleges and universities in the U.S. by Ithaka S+R found that many students wanted additional communication about changes being made, along with extra support from financial aid and academic advising departments.

Balancing family, household and school responsibilities was cited as the No. 1 difficulty students faced in the spring semester, followed by time management and adjusting to online instruction, the Ithaka S+R survey found.

Approximately three-quarters of nongraduating students said they were highly likely to re-enroll in the fall semester, though many indicated uncertainty about how quickly they would be able to graduate.

Recommendations from the survey are as follows:

  • Continue to communicate. Students reported high understanding of institutional polices but wanted more support from financial aid and academic advising departments.
  • Rethink technical and specialized coursework. Students reported low levels of difficulty with completing most assignments, but work that was highly collaborative, technical or specialized was reported as an obstacle.
  • Enhance connection and collaboration. While highly collaborative work was deemed challenging, many students report feeling a lack of connection to their classmates and their institution. Student life offerings in digital formats could help to provide a more fulfilling college experience.
  • Invest in academic and financial advising. Many students are concerned about their financial and academic standing. Greater investment in personnel and systems could be beneficial.
  • Target students with the greatest need. Historically underserved and marginalized students were more likely to face challenges than their peers in the spring semester. University resources should be allocated to the students who need them most.

A survey of 5,000 students at 200 U.S. institutions by College Pulse and the Charles Koch Foundation found that the majority, 69 percent, thought their institution did a good or excellent job in responding to the pandemic. Looking forward, helping students find jobs and lower the price of course materials were top priorities cited by survey respondents.

The College Pulse survey found that more than three-quarters of students did not think they would return to campus in the fall, and if they continue to study online, 93 percent think they should pay less.

June 26, 2020

As higher education faces an uncertain future amid a global pandemic and calls for greater racial equality, the nation’s governors should chart a long-range strategy that stimulates the economy, avoids the boom-and-bust cycle of funding colleges, and avoids mistakes that have left many behind, write experts from the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education and a policy consulting firm.

In a policy brief released Thursday, the experts on state higher education funding called on governors to create broad task forces to develop plans that would not be “a short-term ‘fix-it’ but rather a long-term commitment -- one likely to span more than a single election cycle.”

Those plans should be guided by a number of principles to improve lives, including investing in institutions best suited to serve the unemployed and those left behind in the recovery from the Great Recession, wrote Joni Finney, a professor at Penn, and Scott Pattison, a senior fellow with the University of Ottawa's Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy. Kristin D. Hultquist, founding partner of HCM Strategists, and Martha J. Snyder, the public policy and advocacy consulting firm’s senior director, also co-authored the report.

To help the unemployed, states should focus on high-quality, short-term workforce certificate programs as well as associate and bachelor’s degree programs at regional colleges and universities, community and technical colleges, and, in some states, independent nonprofit institutions, the report said.

“Programs should be tailored to upskill individuals to return to their same field of work, or, for those whose jobs have disappeared permanently, to train and educate them for other fields,” they wrote.

To serve low-income families, states also should support colleges with the most affordable certificate and degree programs that are of high quality and tied to the job market, according to the report.

The paper also called for freezing tuition at regional public colleges, while tying it to rising median income for research universities.

Instead of raising prices for students, the experts also called for finding alternative funding sources for higher education, including the creation of public-private partnerships, tapping into state reserves and loaning state funds to institutions.

Historic unemployment, “coupled with the extensive social unrest in response to persistent, systemic racial discrimination, have put state and local policymakers under increasing pressure for meaningful reform,” the paper said. “Leadership in this time of crisis requires bold action that acknowledges historical barriers and prioritizes supports for the recently unemployed, students of color, low-income individuals, adults and those populations impacted by COVID-19.”

June 26, 2020

Concordia University School of Law in Boise, Idaho, will not reopen this fall after the end of its summer term.

The law school was established in 2007 by Concordia University Portland and began teaching students in 2012. Concordia University Portland announced its permanent closure in February due to financial difficulties.

Plans called for the law school to be transferred to Concordia St. Paul, another institution in the Concordia University system. But the two parties were unable to complete the transaction, despite “tireless efforts” to “secure a transfer agreement and the approval of the American Bar Association (ABA) and accrediting bodies,” according to a Thursday news release.

“We are absolutely heartbroken for our prospective and current students, our alumni, our faculty and staff, and our supporters and donors who have worked so hard over the last eight years to build a law school up from scratch. I can’t thank everyone enough for their work, energy, and commitment to this law school and the values we stand for,” said Latonia Haney Keith, interim dean of the law school.

The law school welcomed 89 students into its incoming class in August 2019. It is not yet clear where these students and others who have not yet completed their studies will continue their education. A teach-out plan is still being finalized by the school and will be submitted to the ABA for approval.

The closure of the law school, which offered thousands of hours of pro bono legal services locally, will leave “a significant gap in access to justice in this community,” said Haney Keith.

Concordia University Portland collapsed after falling behind on payments to its former online program management partner HotChalk. The company helped the university to substantially grow its online presence but is now suing the institution for $302 million.

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