It’s a time of great change for higher education.
From school reopening plans and questions about liability to acceptance dates, deferment rates, and the hidden costs of laying off and furloughing staff, here are some of the stories making headlines.
College News Stories
The Vice President Talks to School Leaders
Recently, Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx spoke by phone with leaders of 14 colleges and universities. According to a news release from the vice president’s office, their conversations focused on how to safely get students back to school this fall. Call participants included:
- President of Purdue University and former governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels, Jr.
- President of University of Texas-El Paso and former Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson
- President of Hillsdale College Dr. Larry Arnn
- President of Marquette University Dr. Michael Lovell
- President of University of Virginia James E. Ryan
- Chancellor of the University of Alabama System Fess St. John IV
- President of University of Florida Dr. W. Kent Fuchs
- President of University of Notre Dame Rev. John Jenkins
- President of Carnegie Mellon University Dr. Farnam Jahanian
- President of Ohio State University Dr. Michael V. Drake
- President of Stanford University Dr. Marc Tessier-Lavigne
- President of Wake Forest University Dr. Nathan Hatch
- President of Arizona State University Dr. Michael Crow
- President of Hampton University Dr. William R. Harvey
In an interview with the Winston Salem Journal, Dr. Hatch said of the call, “We talked about all of the considerations—public health and safety concerns, testing availability, robust containment measures and economic impact. We shared the various struggles and contingencies we are all working through. We agreed that universities are vital economic and innovative engines in their communities. And we admitted that there are no easy or predictable paths along this uncharted way.”
The Vice President said he looked forward to hearing progress updates soon
Higher-Ed Officials Seek Immunity from Lawsuits Related to COVID-19 Illnesses
During a New Jersey Senate committee meeting, higher-education officials asked the state for immunity from lawsuits if they reopened campuses in the fall and students and employees get COVID-19.
They say the financial toll that lawsuits could take would be too much for the schools to recover from. The question of immunity was also raised by some of the leaders on the call to the Vice President, according to Heather Wilson (President of UTEP) who was on the call and later interviewed about it by Inside Higher Ed.
To Go Or Not to Go Is Still the Question. But Will Schools Be Flexible?
Schools don’t generally get a lot of requests from students to defer their admission. This year could be different. That’s because commitment deadlines at many schools have been moved to June 1, students still have lots of questions, and schools can’t answer all of them—yet.
College deferment comes in two forms—sometimes a school defers your application, and other times a student may request it. Both mean you delay starting school.
U.S. News and World Report recently interviewed The National Association for College Admission Counseling about requirements for deferment. They noted that “a deposit is often required by the college to hold a place in the next class, and it is the college’s right to expect the student to account for the time spent between graduation from high school and matriculation at the college.”
They also said a student needs to get permission from the school that deferred admission if they want to attend another school during their deferment period. Some schools require students to have a structured plan in place during that time (such as a planned gap year), where they do an internship or work.
A gap year can be a semester or an entire school year where you’re not enrolled in a full-time higher-education program but are working to gain experience in some other way. Ethan Knight, executive director of the Gap Year Association, recently spoke to Inside Higher Ed and said that “the association has seen a 65 percent increase in page views of its website.”
What Students Are Thinking
So what issues and questions are top of mind for students who are still undecided?
A Carnegie Dartlet survey of 2,800 high school seniors conducted in May revealed that the majority of students would honor their commitment to a school if the school decided to open campuses with social distancing measures in place.
The biggest issue is when the announcement about opening is made—the later the school reveals what it’s doing, the more apprehension students have.The survey revealed that delaying an announcement until the month of classes could result in a nearly 50% loss of potential new students.
The other big consideration is the type of teaching that will be done. Thirty-three percent of students are considering deferring or cancelling if classes go fully online in the fall. According to the survey, “An overwhelming majority (95%) of prospective students said a move to online coursework, even partially, requires at least some change to the cost of attendance.”
From the survey: “Nearly two-thirds of students, both committed and uncommitted, said that a school making no additional resources available makes them less likely to attend. Adding additional student loan opportunities shifts many to a neutral standing. The other potential options—including a year-long grant, increasing scholarships, reducing costs, and subtracting fees—were all rated as increasing likelihood significantly.”
What Administrators Are Thinking
Requesting a deferment is not a guarantee you’ll be granted one. Keep in mind that things could get more complicated if you wait to ask for one until the last day, when a school will probably be hearing from most incoming students.
Jayne Caflin Fonash, the president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and an independent college consultant, told Inside Higher Ed that most decisions will likely be made on a “case-by-case basis” as schools attempt to strike a balance between student needs and school needs.
Still, some of the more selective colleges, such as Cornell University in New York, and Williams College in Massachusetts, have indicated that they are planning to work with students who want to defer.
The Impact of Firing and Furloughing Staff and Teachers
Schools have now taken more extreme steps to cut their losses as a result of COVID-19.
According to a story by Inside Higher Ed: “When colleges are forced to consider budget cuts, administrative costs such as travel and expense funds are typically the first to go, according to Ken Rodgers, director at S&P Global.
Hiring freezes come next, which result in ‘a reasonable amount of savings,’ he said. If that’s not enough, pay reductions, furloughs and layoffs become viable expense-saving options.”
We are now officially in the pay reductions, furloughs, and layoffs stage.
To date, The Chronicle of Higher Ed “has identified 113 institutions associated with a layoff, a furlough, or a contract nonrenewal resulting from Covid-19. At least 37,181 employees (including student workers) in academe are known to have been affected by those actions.” Not all jobs are ending immediately.
Some professors will be able to finish the school year, some positions will end and be reworked, and others will have a chance to be reinstated. You can find an ongoing list here.
What does this all mean for students? In a nutshell: some majors, minors, concentrations, and programs will be cut as well.
And all of this will need to be factored into a student’s decision-making about what school is the right school, and when is the right time to attend.
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