News in Brief

By AGB    //    Volume 28,  Number 4   //    July/August 2020

CDC Issues New Guidance to Colleges on COVID-19

At the end of May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines for colleges and universities regarding COVID-19. The CDC acknowledged in their May 21, 2020, statement on the guidelines that institutions should work with local and state health officials to implement these considerations in a way that works with their campus and community. As the CDC’s guidance explained, “Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community.”

Some general guidelines they presented were that the lowest risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 would be online classes and closing residence halls. The CDC then went on to explain guidelines to follow if classes were going to be held in person. The first consideration is to encourage students and faculty who are sick or think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 to stay home and isolate, this includes isolating in dorms once students are back on campus. Institutions should also encourage and reinforce handwashing practices, sneezing and coughing into elbows, and wearing cloth face coverings. The CDC has signs on their website that can be used on campuses to encourage these behaviors.

Further guidelines include maintaining healthy environments on campus. This is achieved through cleaning and disinfecting surfaces frequently, discouraging sharing any objects, ensuring good ventilation, clean water systems, modified classroom layouts to ensure social distancing, physical barriers and guides installed in places where it is hard to maintain social distancing, providing grab and go meals or disposable food service items, and closing communal spaces. Closing communal spaces includes adding barriers between beds and sinks where it is difficult to maintain a six-feet apart distance from others.

To maintain healthy operations, the CDC suggests offering various options for high-risk individuals, making group events virtual if possible, increasing telework options and virtual meetings, creating good communications systems, increasing time-off and excused absence policies, providing ample staff training, and encouraging students and faculty to perform good coping and resilience strategies such as staying active and getting good sleep.

Institutions also need policies in place for when a student or staff member gets sick. The CDC encourages advising home isolation, establishing procedures for isolation of the sick and transportation for a person who may have COVID-19.

Colleges with Fewer Students Received More Funds from the Coronavirus Relief Fund

A large part of the $350 million of the Coronavirus Relief Fund set aside for higher education has been given to small, private colleges that serve a small population of the students in the United States. According to a May 8 article from NPR, the 20 institutions that received the most money serve fewer than 3,000 students combined and half of them are religious. These include schools such as Wesley Biblical Seminary, Virginia Beach Theological Seminary, and Saybrook University.

To receive this funding, the institutions need to request it from the U.S. Department of Education. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, told the Washington Post that this decision by DeVos ignores what Congress’ intent was and gives “the funds to schools without determining if they actually need it.”

Supreme Court Blocks Trump’s Attempt to End DACA

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on June 18, 2020, that the Trump administration rescinding the DACA program was “arbitrary and capricious.” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion and noted that the Trump administration failed to provide adequate reasoning to end the program. “We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” wrote Roberts. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”

In September 2017, the Trump administration announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program—launched by the Obama administration in 2012 that allowed for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to remain in the country—could be rescinded in six months’ time but delayed ending it until March 2018. In granting a six-month delay, the president asked Congress to pass legislation to provide a permanent solution for those currently protected under DACA. Congress has not yet acted, but DACA in the years since has been kept alive by court decisions, leaving these individuals in political and legal limbo.

DACA enabled these undocumented children to be eligible for a work permit, a Social Security card, a driver’s license, and deferred deportation.

More than 825,000 people have been eligible for DACA status since 2012, according to the Center for American Progress. Undocumented students now account for more than 450,000 or approximately 2 percent of all students in higher education in the United States, which the New American Economy estimates (drawn from the 2018 American Community Survey).

Such undocumented students, brought into the United States as children, are known widely as DREAMers, named after the DREAM Act that was introduced but never passed—the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have offered them the chance of permanent legal residency.

The American Council on Education submitted an amicus brief in October 2019 with 43 other higher education associations, including the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, to the Supreme Court in support of DACA. The brief noted that the DACA policy made it newly possible for countless DREAMers to get a postsecondary education and unlock the potential such an education affords” and that “DACA has been a symbol of tolerance and openness of our university campuses.” A major concern noted in the brief was that the Trump administration rescinding DACA could “irreparably damage the reputation of America’s higher education system in the eyes of the world.”

“Our 44 higher education associations were united in emphasizing to the Court that if it allowed the administration to end DACA without meaningful judicial review ‘it would send a message of exclusion that would irreparably harm our institutions’ ability to recruit and retain foreign-born students,’ and ‘it would pull the rug out from under the DREAMers themselves, who have upended their lives—taking out loans, earning degrees, and taking the risk of revealing their undocumented status—in reliance on DACA,’” said Peter McDonough, vice president and general counsel at the American Council on Education.

New Sexual Assault Regulations

On May 6, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education released final regulations on campus sexual assault under Title IX. These are the finalized regulations from the ones proposed in November 2018. These regulations will be mandatory instead of guidelines. Institutions will be required to comply with the regulations starting August 14.

Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement that “This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process.” This transparent process includes due process rights for the students who are accused of sexual assault and those who report it. The Department of Education emphasized this in a statement that for those accused, “guilt is not predetermined” and for those who report the assault, “every survivor’s claim of sexual misconduct is taken seriously.” The new regulations aim to protect all students involved according to the Department of Education.

These regulations also define sexual harassment. In a statement summarizing the regulations, the Department of Education defines sexual harassment “to include any of three types of misconduct on the basis of sex, all of which jeopardize the equal access to education that Title IX is designed to protect: Any instance of quid pro quo harassment by a school’s employee; any unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would find so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal educational access; and any instance of sexual assault (as defined in the Clery Act), dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking as defined in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).”

Some groups are concerned about these new regulations. They believe that they make it more difficult for survivors to come forward. “The final rule makes it harder for survivors to report sexual violence, reduces schools’ liability for ignoring or covering up sexual harassment, and creates a biased reporting process that favors respondents and schools over survivors’ access to education, ” said Sage Carson, the manager of Know Your IX, a survivor- and youth-led project of the nonprofit Advocates for Youth that aims to empower students to end sexual and dating violence in their schools. According to Advocates for Youth, this new reporting process favors the “perpetrators and schools” who want to keep these cases from becoming prominent.

More Students Consider a Gap Year

Many high school seniors are deciding to put college off for a year due to the coronavirus. Art & Science Group published a survey of 1,171 American high school seniors. This survey found that 16 percent of students surveyed said they would take a gap year. They do not want to start college with all the uncertainty currently surrounding the fall semester.

One high school senior from Utah, Taylor Fang, told the Hechinger Report in a May 5 article that without in-person classes, “I would definitely want to take a gap year. It is such an investment, and I just feel like I would be missing out on a lot.”

Colleges and universities around the country are starting to announce their plans for the fall. California State University canceled most in-person classes for the fall while Arizona State University and Arkansas State University both announced that they are planning for in-person classes. Case Western Reserve University is one of the institutions planning for a hybrid model. They explained this in their April 9 message to faculty/staff, “We also know that some of our international students now in their home countries may not be able to get back to campus…. Given that possibility—as well as others involving renewed infection increases—we intend to offer courses in both traditional and remote models.”

All these scenarios point to the uncertainty of the fall that are motivating many to turn to gap years. Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education told the Washington Post in a May 13 article, “No school in the country or the world can be certain what the fall will bring.”

The issue is that gap years are also full of uncertainty. During traditional gap years, students sometimes get jobs, internships, or travel. These options will be less feasible with the pandemic. One alternative option has been to join AmeriCorps. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Senator Chris Van Hallon of Maryland introduced a bill to expand the number of AmeriCorps volunteers to help fight the coronavirus.

Another option for students is to sign up for classes that are cheaper and closer to their home, such as community college. Some community colleges are expecting to get students from four-year universities signing up for classes in the fall. Michael Baston, the president of Rockland Community College, told CNBC that, “Under the circumstances, families may turn to us as the gateway of opportunity, and we’ve been ready.”

Decline in FAFSA Renewals, Enrollment Down

On May 6, the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) announced that “Nearly 250,000 fewer returning students from the lowest-income backgrounds have renewed their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2020–21 cycle.” NCAN explains how this drop may be the result of COVID-19.

Kim Cook, executive director of NCAN, points out in the announcement that FAFSA renewals are a good gauge for postsecondary enrollment: “We should carefully monitor FAFSA renewal as a predictor of emerging fall enrollment trends.”

The NCAN report further noted that the decrease in FAFSA renewals was higher among low-income returning students. Pell Grant-eligible returning students saw a similar decrease as well as high school seniors. This all points to a decrease in total enrollment at many institutions for the fall 2020 semester. According to the American Council on Education’s April 2020 survey on college and university presidents’ response to COVID-19, 86 percent said fall or summer enrollment was their most pressing issue.

SimpsonScarborough released a National Student Survey on Higher Ed and COVID-19. The survey collected data from high school seniors who planned to attend four-year institutions and current college students from March 25 through March 30. Findings from this survey concluded that about half of students’ family financial situations were being affected by COVID-19. Eighty-nine percent of high school seniors had said they were still planning on attending four-year institutions and 89 percent of returning students said they are still planning on returning.

SimpsonScarborough acknowledged that this number will likely drop because of the continued financial fallout due to the pandemic. One in five high school seniors said they were thinking about not enrolling in fall 2020 and one in four said their college choice was affected by COVID-19. The insights from these results show the fear of enrolling in the fall due to financial issues or uncertainty of how the institution will run in the fall.

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