News in Brief

By AGB    //    Volume 28,  Number 3   //    May/June 2020

How Higher Ed Fares in the Federal Stimulus Package due to COVID-19

The federal government’s stimulus package to an effort to mitigate the effects of the financial fallout of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, included nearly $14 billion in grants to go directly to higher education institutions.

On April 9, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education announced guidelines about how most of that aid—$12.5 billion—will be awarded. (The rest of the funds are earmarked for minority-serving institutions and other small institutions.)

The first wave of CARES Act funding will provide aid to students for expenses like course materials, technology, housing, food, health care, and childcare.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that $6 billion will be distributed immediately to colleges and universities to provide direct emergency cash grants to college students whose lives and educations have been disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak.

“What’s best for students is at the center of every decision we make,” said Secretary DeVos, in a statement. “That’s why we prioritized getting funding out the door quickly to college students who need it most. We don’t want unmet financial needs due to the coronavirus to derail their learning.”

Colleges and universities are required to utilize the $6.28 billion made avail-able as of April 9 to provide cash grants to students for expenses related to disruptions to their educations due to the COVID-19 outbreak, including things like course materials and technology as well as food, housing, health care, and child-care. In order to access the funds, the Department must receive a signed certification from the higher education institution affirming they will distribute the funds in accordance with applicable law. The college or university will then determine which students will receive the cash grants.

Earlier, colleges and universities were given immediate regulatory flexibility so students’ educations could continue online. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education also provided student loan relief to tens of millions of borrowers by setting all federally held student loan interest rates to zero percent and allowing borrowers to defer payments for 60 days without interest. The CARES Act extends those benefits to six months.

IU Trustees Approve Borrowing up to $1 Billion, Postpones Election of New Trustee

Indiana University Board of Trustees is allowing the institution to borrow up to $1 billion to mitigate potential financial losses due to the coronavirus pandemic on April 10, according to the Associated Press.

Indiana University also announced on April 1, 2020, that it is postponing the summer election of a new member of its Board of Trustees due to the pandemic.

Board of Trustees Chair Michael Mirro noted in requesting the change that the current circumstances would have made regular election practices that include interacting with alumni impossible. They added that it would be difficult for a new trustee starting July 1 to address the complex issues.

“The Board of Trustees is grateful to Governor Holcomb for his order postponing this spring’s alumni election in light of the COVID-19 pan-demic,” Mirro said. “Attempting to conduct an election in the current environment would be patently unfair to the candidates and, in many cases, deny our alumni the opportunity to cast a ballot. Given these extraordinary circumstances, the board appreciates Trustee Pat Shoulders’ willingness to serve one additional year until we can undertake a new election next year.”

New Study on Women on Boards of Hospitals and Universities

A new study about diversifying education and medical boards titled, Increasing Gender Diversity on the Boards of Nonprofit Eds and Meds: Why and How to Do It, found that education and healthcare nonprofits face the same diversity challenges as for-profit company boards: a significant number still lack substantial gender and racial diversity. A lot of focus has been given to diversifying for-profit boards, but this same focus has been largely ignored on nonprofit boards, places such as hospitals and universities.

The study explained different obstacles that women face getting onto education or medical boards.

“The need to bridge the gender diversity gap at eds and meds is particularly important at a time when the constituents of these institutions (patients, students, and staff) are increasingly female,” said Vicki Kramer, one of the coauthors of the study.

The report was created through interviews with “59 female ed and med board members and male and female institutional leaders (chairs and chief executives) in 14 states and the District of Columbia, representing every region of the United States.” These interviews showed an inside look at board selection processes. The report also highlighted the difference in impact for women of color.

The report found that having women on these boards makes a difference on decision making, that nonprofits’ boards offer unique barriers for women to cross to get on these boards, that nonprofits boards have the ability to benefit from and achieve diversity, and that stakeholders such as consumers, employees, and donors could generate change.

U.S. Department of Education Escalates Inquiry into Reporting of Foreign Gifts and Contracts

The U.S. Department of Education has stepped up its scrutiny of foreign gifts at universities and colleges, especially at institutions such as Harvard University and Yale University. Institutions must report gifts from foreign sources that are more than $250,000 to the U. S. Department of Education. Congress created this part of the Higher Education Act in 1965, “in light of concerns about the growing financial relationship between U.S. universities and foreign sources,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Some institution officials believe that Department of Education’s increased efforts are beyond what the law requires but this heightened scrutiny has led to around $6.5 billion in foreign funds being disclosed, as reported by an Inside Higher Ed article on February 20. There have also been some findings that are worrying to officials. One such finding as explained in a November 27, 2019, letter from Reed D. Rubinstein, the principal deputy of the general counsel to the Chairman of Homeland Security’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations: “The six investigated universities collectively failed to report in excess of $1.3 billion from foreign sources (including China, Qatar, and Russia) over the past seven years despite their clear legal duty to do so under Section 117.”

This finding is concerning since contracts or funds from these sources might lead to impacts and changes with what universities are teaching their students and what research they are conducting.

Trump Allows Borrowers to Suspend Student Loan Payments for Two Months

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education announced in March that it will suspend federal student loan payments for two months. Every borrower will have their interest rates set to zero percent for at least 60 days. The interest waiver will not lower the payments but will give borrowers relief for these 60 days. If they choose, they can also suspend their payments for two months.

“Right now, everyone should be focused on staying safe and healthy, not worrying about their student loan balance growing,” said Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in a statement on March 20.

The payments will also be suspended for any borrower who is delinquent for more than 31 days on their payments for the 60-day span. In a news conference on March 20, President Trump announced that he may decide to keep this repayment suspension longer if necessary, according to a March 20 CNN article.

This will not be an automatic change. The borrowers must contact their loan servicer to request their loan payments to be suspended for the 60 days. The loan servicers have been directed by the U.S. Department of Education to give anyone a forbearance who asks.

The University of Houston to Pay Tuition for Families Earning $65,000 or Less

The University of Houston Board of Regents announced on February 27 that beginning in fall 2020, the University of Houston will cover full tuition for students whose family’s total income is $65,000 or less. These guidelines are part of the university’s Cougar Promise program, which began in 2008. These new qualifications are an expansion of this existing program. To qualify for the program, the students must (1) be Texas residents, (2) be a first-time freshman, and (3) must enroll full time. To be eligible for yearly renewal, students must earn at least a 2.5 cumulative grade point average and earn a minimum of 24 credit hours per academic year.

“Your family’s income bracket shouldn’t limit your ability to achieve a college degree. Talented people come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, so I’m thrilled there will be more financial aid available for those UH students who need it most,” said Tilman Fertitta, chairman of the UHS Board of Regents.

New Study Shows that Student Evaluations of Teachers Are Flawed

Even when student evaluations of teaching are designed to be reliable and unbiased, a new study says that they may still be unfair, according to new research.

“Unbiased, Reliable, and Valid Student Evaluations Can Still Be Unfair,” published in Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, highlights the problems and biases present in student evaluations of professors. The study attempts to assume the best of these evaluations before delving into the study of their quality and reliability.

Authors Justin Esarey and Natalie Valdes, an associate professor and research fellow in the Department of Political Science at Wake Forest University, did an analysis through “computational simulation” to show that even when circumstances are ideal, evaluations are still highly unreliable. Large differences in evaluation scores failed to identify the best teacher reliably in comparisons. This study also indicated that using “multiple imperfect measures” could lead to fairer results.

The paper cites that “using invalid, unreliable, or biased student evaluations to make decisions about hiring and tenure is obviously harmful to students and faculty alike.” Even worse, it says, “biased student evaluations of teachers could disadvantage faculty from underrepresented minority groups or punish faculty members who teach unpopular required courses.”

“Our simulation indicates that evaluating instruction using multiple imperfect measures, including but not limited to student evaluations of teaching, can produce a fairer and more useful result compared to using student evaluations of teaching alone,” noted the authors in the paper’s abstract.

New Statement of Ethical Principles Guiding the Use of Data in Higher Education

The Association for Institutional Research (AIR) published the AIR Statement of Ethical Principles on January 21, 2020. This statement is, “an expression of integrity, professionalism, and fairness intended to guide the use of data in decision-making within higher education,” according to AIR.

This statement serves as a way for higher education’s professional community to view the use of data in the field. Michelle Appel, the AIR president when these new principles were approved, explains the importance of this work: “I am so proud that the board took on this task, and of the collaboration that created these new principles, which will serve as a compass for our actions as we work to bolster student success and support higher education.”

The report is important because it guides professionals in the field through the challenges of working with data in higher education. It informs ethical principles as well as expectations that are carried with the use of data in the field. To help further present these principles, AIR created “hypothetical scenarios from the data community that feature examples of how the ethical principles can be applied.” To read these scenarios, go to
www.airweb.org/ethics.

Brigham Young University Walks Back LGBTQ Freedoms

On February 19, 2020, Brigham Young University altered their honor code to get rid of the passage that prohibited “homosexual behavior.” The removal of this language meant that students would not be punished for any same-sex romantic relationships or actions. Two weeks later, on March 4, BYU released another statement saying that there had been some misinterpretation to its alteration in the honor code.

The statement was written by Elder Paul V. Johnson, Commissioner of the Church Educational System. He wrote that “same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the honor code.” Many students reported being told by university staff members that they would be able to have open same-sex relationships without facing discipline. Now, some of these same staff members are telling them that this behavior is not allowed, according to students.

Many students and alumni expressed anger at this, some organizing a protest at BYU, as reported by a March 4 article in the Salt Lake Tribune. Many students came out when the announcement that they were getting rid of the ban in the honor code was made. Now these same students are afraid of facing consequences for these actions.

“We felt like we finally had a place and then they ripped it away again,” said junior Katie Guerrero, who is bisexual, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.

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