ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

COVID-19 and Higher Education: A Reading List

May 1, 2020 by Erik Gross

The spread of COVID-19 has upended much of daily life in America as individuals practice social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. Higher education has been particularly affected, with virtually all residential colleges closing their doors. There is a lot out there to read on higher education and COVID-19, so the staff at ACTA is saving you some time by rounding up the biggest and most important stories during the pandemic.

Week of April 27, 2020

“Study Abroad Faces a New Reality” by Elizabeth Redden in Inside Higher Ed

Study abroad programs are facing immense uncertainty for the fall semester as the plausibility of international travel remains unclear. Universities are preparing for scenarios in which students that were meant to go abroad may need to continue their education domestically. "We are planning for a variety of realities for the fall," said Lorna Stern, vice president at Arcadia University and executive director of its College of Global Studies. "One is that with modifications around student safety and well-being and the well-being of our staff and faculty, we are planning that we will be able to deliver on-site programming . . . I fully suspect that the kinds of pivots that we've done this summer and the kinds of curriculum and programs that we've developed for the summer we'll try to develop for the fall."

To read the full article, click here >> 

“College Campuses Must Reopen in the Fall. Here’s How We Do It.” by Christina Paxson in the New York Times

Christina Paxson, president of Brown University and a recipient of ACTA’s Hero of Intellectual Freedom award, wrote in the New York Times that Brown plans to open in the fall with certain social distancing requirements and virus response protocols. Stating that colleges and universities are essential to our democracy and economy, President Paxson set forth a bold plan for re-opening that has caused ripples throughout the higher education sphere. “The reopening of college and university campuses in the fall should be a national priority. Institutions should develop public health plans now that build on three basic elements of controlling the spread of infection: test, trace and separate.”

To read the full article, click here >> 

“Coronavirus Pushes Colleges to the Breaking Point, Forcing ‘Hard Choices’ About Education” by Melissa Korn, Douglas Belkin, and Juliet Chung in the Wall Street Journal

In response to financial pressures posed by the coronavirus pandemic, colleges and universities are making difficult cuts to stay afloat. Their previous business models, often including lavish spending and high tuition, are proving to be unsustainable as students express hesitation about returning to campus in the fall. Colleges are now having to discount tuition, freeze hiring, and take out lines of credit to remain operational.

To read the full article, click here >> 

Week of April 20, 2020

“Under Pressure, Harvard Says It Will Reject US Relief Aid” by The Associated Press in the New York Times

This week, Harvard University announced that it will not be accepting the $8.7 million in federal coronavirus relief funds allocated by Congress. In the face of public criticism, many elite institutions, including Stanford University and Princeton University, have returned stimulus funds, citing their large endowments and the greater need of other universities. 

To read the full article, click here >>

“What Will COVID-19 Mean For Academic Freedom?” by Michael Poliakoff in Forbes

ACTA President Michael Poliakoff examines the implications of the rapid transition to remote learning for academic freedom. While much of young people’s lives today exists on a permanent digital record, the classroom has traditionally been a place where comments are not recorded and students can feel free to take intellectual risks. However, free and open exchange faces new challenges in the online classroom. “Yale University’s 1974 C. Vann Woodward Report stated that the university is the place to ‘think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.’ With a digital record of class discussions available for ready exploitation, that valiant goal will fall much farther out of reach.”

To read the full article, click here >> 

“2 Campuses Give Early Answers to Higher Ed’s Biggest Question: What Happens This Fall?” by Lindsay Ellis in the Chronicle of Higher Education

After closing for the spring semester, the next big question for college leaders is whether they should remain closed next fall. Two universities posed answers this week. While California State University–Fullerton announced that it will be going remote for the fall semester, Purdue University announced that, at least for the time being, it is planning to operate as a residential university with certain social distancing requirements. Despite acknowledging that the university may be forced to close if new developments arise, Purdue University President Mitch Daniels signaled that he hopes the school can resume operation in the fall, stating, “Closing down our entire society, including our university, was a correct and necessary step. It has had invaluable results. But like any action so drastic, it has come at extraordinary costs, as much human as economic, and at some point, clearly before next fall, those will begin to vastly outweigh the benefits of its continuance.”

To read the full article, click here >>

Week of April 13, 2020

“The Next Financial Blow” by Kery Murakami in Inside Higher Ed

Missouri recently announced a $180 million cut to the state’s budget, $76.3 million of which will come out of the higher education budget. This is expected to be the first of many states to cut education budgets as the recession decreases tax revenues. Already reeling from moving instruction online and refunding room and board, this trend will present a massive financial blow to colleges and universities.

To read the full article, click here >>

“How Higher Education Leaders Should Respond To The Coronavirus Financial Crisis” by Michael Poliakoff in Forbes

ACTA President Michael Poliakoff comments on the urgent reforms that colleges and universities must enact to streamline their spending and, in turn, to offer a better and more affordable education to their students. This should entail curricular reform, maximization of facilities, cuts to administrative spending, and greater resource sharing between campuses. “It would not be the worst outcome of this crisis for university leadership formerly too feckless to stare down intransigent faculty and the empire builders in student services finally to recognize that their choice is now between eliminating the fatuous and nugatory or slipping into insolvency.”

To read the full article, click here >> 

“Colleges and universities threatened by COVID-19” by Michael Barone in the Washington Examiner

Michael Barone, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writes that the COVID-19 pandemic will weaken higher education’s already lackluster academic performance. As colleges have abandoned solid core curricula, failed to defend the free exchange of ideas, and are increasingly hostile to opposing viewpoints, Mr. Barone worries that the pandemic will lead to an increasingly uneducated public.

To read the full article, click here >>

“Call It a Ponzi Scheme” by Heather Mac Donald in City Journal

Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute examines whether the coronavirus can upend higher education’s broken status quo of raising tuition, expanding bureaucracy, and accepting students unlikely to succeed. “Higher education today resembles a massive Ponzi scheme. Colleges desperately recruit ever more marginal students who stand little chance of graduating. Before their inevitable withdrawal, those students’ tuition dollars fuel the growth of the bureaucracy, which creates the need to get an even larger pool of likely dropouts through the door to fund the latest round of administrative expansion.”

To read the full article, click here >>

Week of April 6, 2020

"Will Students Show Up?" by Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed 

A survey by marketing and research firm SimpsonScarborough found that one in ten high school seniors who previously planned to go to a four-year college will likely change their decision in light of the coronavirus. Another 4 percent are very likely to do so and 10 percent say it is too soon to say. 

To read the full article, click here >> 

“How the last recession affected higher education. Will history repeat?” by Jill Barshay in the Hechinger Report

To help us think through what will happen to higher education if the coronavirus pandemic results in a recession, Jill Barshay revisits how higher education fared during the Great Recession. College enrollment tends to run counter-cyclical to the economy: When the economy contracts, more students enroll in college as the unemployed seek to gain additional skills to get a leg up. Meanwhile, state funding for higher education tends to decline as tax revenues shrink. The result: More students with less resources.

To read the full article, click here >>

“It’s Hard to Teach Writing Online” by Kristina Rizga in The Atlantic

As millions of teachers across the nation have gone remote in the past few weeks, one lesson has been clear: There is no quintessential formula for taking the classroom online. While some classes may experience a rather seamless transition, others have struggled mightily. Teachers have reported that it is especially difficult to teach writing online, without the face-to-face interaction and mentorship that helps writers hone their craft. Kristina Rizga talks to a few veteran writing teachers about how they have been coping with the transition.

To read the full article, click here >>

“Why Pandemic Problems Should Get Colleges Like Harvard To Admit Students By Lottery Next Year” by Frederick Hess in Forbes

When next year’s high school seniors apply to college in the fall, institutions will have to cope with incomplete information on applicants. Test scores will likely be unavailable, with the SAT and ACT canceling testing dates. Transcripts will be spotty and possibly compromised by the transition to online learning. Even extracurricular activities will be disrupted by the coronavirus. To remedy these issues, Frederick Hess recommends that colleges adopt a lottery system, similar to what many charter schools and out-of-district public schools use.

To read the full article, click here >>

“How Colleges Are Stepping Up To Fight COVID-19” by Michael T. Nietzel in Forbes

Michael T. Nietzel, president emeritus of Missouri State University, surveys the various ways that colleges are exhibiting strong leadership during this time of crisis. Besides closing their doors to slow the spread of COVID-19, colleges and universities are contributing essential research, surge hospitals, materials and resources, and accurate information for the public. In times of crisis, it is important for higher education institutions to assume leadership roles and remain accountable to the public trust.

To read the full article, click here >> 

Week of March 30, 2020 

“Could coronavirus push more colleges to test-optional admissions?” by Jeremy Bauer-Wolf in Education Dive 

In 2019, a record 50 colleges and universities declared that they would no longer require a standardized test for admissions. And after the coronavirus pandemic caused the SAT and ACT to cancel testing dates for high school juniors this spring, experts are speculating if the public health crisis will accelerate the movement toward test-optional admissions. Already, several colleges have announced that they will not be requiring standardized tests for admissions next year in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

To read the full article, click here >>

“Empty Benches at Empty Lab Tables” by Elizabeth Redden in Inside Higher Ed

Major research institutions across the nation have shut down “nonessential” labs to control the spread of COVID-19. While research associated with COVID-19 will be funded under the federal government’s coronavirus stimulus plan, other scientific research is not included. This has caused universities to halt sometimes years-long research projects, both slowing the advancement of science and incurring large costs for institutions.

To read the full article, click here >> 

“Coronavirus Upends College Giving Days as Institutions Pivot to Raise Money for Students’ Basic Needs” by Emily Haynes in the Chronicle of Philanthropy

College are reconsidering their fundraising strategies in the wake of the pandemic. In response to the urgent needs of students who must now finish their semesters at home, many institutions have shifted the focus of their “Giving Days” to raising money for student hardship funds, instead of engaging alumni in lifetime giving. College development offices anticipate that this shift will remove some of the social aspect of fundraising campaigns, but potentially attract different and new donors that are motivated by the difficulties that students currently face.  

To read the full article, click here >>

“For Higher Education, Nothing Matters More Than September” by Paul LeBlanc in Forbes

While colleges and universities are facing unprecedented challenges as they shut down operations for the spring semester, Southern New Hampshire University President Paul LeBlanc notes that, if the coronavirus outbreak lingers into the fall, the outlook will be even worse. If students cannot or are reluctant to pay for and attend college next fall, institutions must prepare for tough times ahead. “For many colleges, there are two large infusions of cash revenue each year. When students pay for the fall semester and then again for the spring semester. Cash flow gets very tight in the weeks before those tuition checks start coming in and less wealthy colleges often dip into a line of credit to carry them through. If they are denied normal tuition revenue this fall, as well as room and board revenue (room and board revenue often spells the difference between a deficit and a surplus for many institutions), they will be in crisis mode.”

To read the full article, click here >>

“Liberty University Demonstrates What Not To Do During A Pandemic” by Michael Poliakoff in Forbes

ACTA President Michael Poliakoff examines Liberty University’s decision to welcome back students following their spring break, despite most colleges closing their campuses in response to coronavirus. On Monday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order forced the university to end the last of its in-person classes. “In times of crisis, higher education is often called upon to serve the greater good. During World War I, colleges and universities helped sell liberty bonds to finance the war effort. In World War II, they planted victory gardens to help boost public morale. Now, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it is their obligation to close their doors to help slow the spread of the virus and potentially save lives. Long before now, Liberty University should have realized that it has a civic duty to enact strong preventative measures.”

To read the full article, click here >>

Week of March 23, 2020

“A Coronavirus Stimulus Plan Is Coming. How Will Higher Education Figure In?” by Danielle McLean in the Chronicle of Higher Education

As the federal government plans initiatives to provide economic relief in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, onlookers are speculating if, or how, higher education will be included in policy proposals. Higher education stakeholders have discussed the possibilities of student loan relief, federal assistance to prevent college closures, and cash payments to aid students with relocation.

To read the full article, click here >>

“COVID-19 Is No Time For Uncle Sam To Have Schools Worrying About Paperwork” by Frederick Hess in Forbes

Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, discusses how the U.S. Department of Education must limit red tape and bureaucracy to provide schools more flexibility to respond to student needs during the pandemic. For example, Mr. Hess examines the bureaucratic hoops associated with dismissing students from federally mandated tests scheduled during the outbreak. Mr. Hess focuses on K-12 education, but the expansive bureaucracy in higher education is just as difficult for colleges to overcome in times of emergency. 

To read the full article, click here >>

“Moody’s lowers higher ed outlook to negative amid coronavirus crisis” by Jeremy Bauer-Wolf in Education Dive

Last week, Moody’s Investors Service announced that it is lowering its financial outlook for the higher education sector from stable to negative, in response to COVID-19. Colleges and universities will have their bottom lines stressed as they make decisions to go remote, respond to emergency cases, and rethink their enrollment timelines.

To read the full article, click here >>

“Questions Without Answers on Admissions” by Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed

“There’s no good time for a pandemic,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost for enrollment management at Oregon State University. “But for admissions, this has got to be the worst time.” With the coronavirus pandemic hitting right when colleges and universities would normally be sending out acceptance letters, admissions departments are scrambling to determine a strategy. And with many families’ incomes likely to be hurt by the pandemic, it is unclear how many students will be enrolling in college next fall. 

To read the full article, click here >>

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