4/22 – 4/28

Student Resources that Offer Support During the Crisis

As students across the country cope with the challenges of distance learning and moving away from campus brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, a growing list of organizations are creating resources to support them through this unprecedented time.

The Reflect Organization, a national mental wellness nonprofit with college and university chapters, has developed a Resource and Activity Guide for college students. The guide includes both national resources and those local to Pennsylvania and New York (where the organization has physical chapters).

Active Minds is hosting webinars on mental wellness topics, as well as offering advice on improving campus cultures from a distance. The organization is continuing their advocacy work while students are off-campus, opening up their chapter resources to educate all young adults and students on how to support their peers in these transitions and new learning situations.

The Hope Center for College Community and Justice, a research center focused on rethinking and restructuring higher education and policies to support students’ basic needs, gathered resources into a guide called, “BEYOND THE FOOD PANTRY: Surviving COVID-19: A #RealCollege Guide for Students.” The guide is broken into sections that advise on: “How to Get Money,” How to Reduce Your Bills, How to Relocate or Find a Place to Live, and How to Protect Your Health.

Coronavirus Impact

In an op-ed in CommonWealth Magazine entitled “College, Interrupted” Lucia Hoffman, a student at Northeastern University, discussed the mixed emotions that result from returning home to live with family. “Those of us in or about to enter college are often told these are supposed to be the best years of our lives,” she wrote. “Even though staying at home during a pandemic is the right thing to do, it’s frustrating to be back living versions of our pre-college lives. No matter how much sourdough bread we bake or home workouts we do, a key piece of our development has been interrupted in a major way.”

In an op-ed in The Hill, Rev. Thomas B. Curran, S.J, president of Rockhurst University in Kansas City, and Dr. Antoine M. Garibaldi, president of the University of Detroit Mercy in Detroit, call on all governors to issue uniform waivers on telehealth and state licensure allowing for college health providers licensed in one state to offer services in others. They are also working with congressional leaders in the hope that Congress will establish a temporary, nationwide waiver in the next coronavirus relief bill. Curran and Garibaldi write, “Academic success and wellness are mutually dependent: the roadblocks that college and university counseling centers face today may have long-term, lasting impacts on the ability of students to cope, learn and succeed through these extraordinarily trying times.”

Missouri State University’s student newspaper, The Standard, reports that students’ sleep schedules have drastically changed due to their transition to online learning, something experts say is a concern. Jerilyn Reed, a student wellness educator who works at the Health and Wellness Center at Missouri State, says students should maintain a sleep schedule, since it is an important part of brain function. “Brain fatigue can lead to trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change,” Reed said. “A deficient and irregular sleep schedule is also linked to depression, including thoughts of suicide and risk-taking behavior. Physically, lack of sleep can lead to many more issues such as an increased risk for heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure and obesity.”

After more than a month of online classes, a recent Elon University Student Government Association survey found that 58% of Elon student respondents indicated their mental health was a concern during the online period. “It made me pretty emotional,” said SGA Executive Secretary Sydney Hallisey. “As a student representative, I was so appreciative of students’ candor and openness in sharing how they were truly feeling… We really are all feeling the same way, and it was hard to see that people are struggling so much being away from campus, but there is solace in knowing we are all in this together.” The survey results also show students are having difficulties or lack knowledge on how to access Counseling Services and other resources.

The Chronicle reports that amid the coronavirus crisis, LGBTQ students are among the most vulnerable. According to the Chronicle, college campuses can be crucial safe havens for LGBTQ students who have kept their sexual orientation or gender identity a secret because they live in unsupportive places. LGBTQ students report that they feel safer and more included in college, and often come out in college once they find a safe environment to explore their identity. Now many of these students have returned to uncomfortable, or even unsafe living situations. Advocates say that it is crucial to make investments in LGBTQ programs and mental-health resources to support these students remotely.

In an op-ed in The Hill, David Wippman, the President of Hamilton College, and Glenn C. Altschuler, a professor at Cornell University, outline the biggest challenges colleges and universities will face in reopening, including higher financial aid costs, less state aid, fewer international students, and increased spending on health and wellness.

According to the survey from the American Council on Education (ACE) and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), one in 10 college students aren’t certain they’ll return to school in the fall or have already decided not to attend because of the coronavirus.

Last Week, the U.S. Department of Education informed administrators that funds allocated through the CARES Act will only be given to students who are eligible for Title IV financial aid. That cuts out international students and undocumented immigrants – including those receiving Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections – from receiving any of the aid that the CARES Act allocates directly to emergency student aid. Those limitations came even as the stimulus law itself made no mention of eligibility for federal student aid to qualify for the emergency money, leading some higher-education associations to question whether the department had made a reasonable interpretation of the legislation. “We believe it’s inconsistent with congressional intent,” said David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

According to the Hechinger Report, minority-serving institutions may fare worse  than others in receiving aid from the CARES Act, the government’s recent coronavirus stimulus package. The Department of Education announced that the emergency grants in the CARES Act are reserved for students who are eligible for federal financial aid. Minority-serving institutions often serve students from the lowest-income populations, and they don’t always fill out the paperwork needed to prove eligibility for federal aid.

According to Inside Higher Ed, colleges are relying on their existing emergency aid funds to help low-income and undocumented students who may not be eligible for federal aid. Examples include the University of California and California State University systems who will use their own funds to give emergency grants to help DACA students. “The University of California is very disappointed that undocumented students, some of the most vulnerable members of our community, are not eligible to access funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” Sarah McBride, a UC spokeswoman, said in an email. Officials at the University of California, Davis, started giving out emergency grants to the roughly 700 unauthorized students on campus through their Community Resource and Retention Center, which promotes educational equity on campus and caters specifically to DACA recipients and other immigrant students.

Harvard University announced it would turn down money from the federal relief package, after a swell of public criticism and pressure from President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy Devos. “As I’ve said all along, wealthy institutions that do not primarily serve low-income students do not need or deserve additional taxpayer funds. This is common sense,” DeVos said in a statement released Wednesday. “Schools with large endowments should not apply for funds so more can be given to students who need support the most. It’s also important for Congress to change the law to make sure no more taxpayer funds go to elite, wealthy institutions.” Harvard’s announcement came amid similar decisions by major private universities to turn down federal funds connected with the CARES Act, including Princeton, Stanford and Yale.

As of Monday – nearly three weeks after the student portion of the stimulus package was made available – only about 60 percent of eligible institutions had applied for that money. The Chronicle reports that the decision to turn down the federal stimulus money is seen largely as a political reaction to the backlash from conservatives against institutions with hefty endowments. According to the Chronicle, legal experts say that concern over reputation and legal liability, as well as frustration over the confusion that has characterized the distribution of the funds, has contributed to the holdup. Institutions are also considering how their actions will be viewed by an administration that has taken an aggressive legal stance towards higher education.

growing list of colleges are facing legal complaints over their response to the coronavirus pandemic, including Columbia University, Pace University, University of Miami, Drexel University and the University of Arizona.

In their coronavirus live updates, Inside Higher Ed reports that more than a dozen Democratic senators including Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Tammy Duckworth, are asking leadership to make the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or D-SNAP, an eligible form of assistance for college students.

The shift to virtual learning may be affecting students in remedial classes more than others. More than a dozen remedial educators told The Chronicle that they have noticed fewer of their students attending Zoom classes in recent weeks, giving rise to concerns that more of these students will be unprepared for college-level work in the fall.

Cornell University is suspending its requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores for next year’s admissions cycle, the first Ivy League institution to do so. Meanwhile, dozens of colleges have announced they would be going test-optional, at least for this coming year, given that the SAT and ACT weren’t offered this spring.

The New York Times reports on the upheaval the coronavirus has caused in the lives of the more than a million international students who study in the United States. When the pandemic closed college campuses, many international students were unsure of where to live or whether they would ever be able to return to class. Many international students also have significant financial concerns; visa restrictions prevent them from working off campuses, and while some come from families wealthy enough to pay for housing off of campus, many others were already struggling with tuition fees before the pandemic.

In Education Dive‘s President Speaks series, Carolyn Stefanco, the president of The College of Saint Rose in New York, and Alfredo Varela, the college’s associate vice president for global affairs, offer six ways that colleges can help international students amid the pandemic, starting with surveying international students to better understand their needs. They also advocate for streamlined processes for student visas, convening an online global government summit on higher education, increasing financial aid, and creating new models of higher education including online degree partnerships between American institutions and those in other countries.

The athletic department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has tried to create a sense of community amid physical distancing. Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said one of the first items Illinois identified was the need to effectively communicate with and disseminate information to staff, coaches and student-athletes. As a result, they developed a series of weekly calls. “We started to have a series of guest speakers,” said Whitman. “We’ve started to show some of the things their peers are doing on social media.” Whitman says the mental health effects of social distancing, are a major consideration, and providing necessary resources in response to that was an early part of Illinois’ plan.

Colleges nationwide have begun speculating about the conditions under which they would reopen campuses for the fall 2020 term. Their plans, which the Chronicle is tracking here, range widely with several schools acknowledging that some degree of online instruction will be needed. On Tuesday, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., president of Purdue University, said that his university intended to bring students back to campus in August. He wrote in an email that Purdue was “determined not to surrender helplessly” to the difficulties of the virus. Shutting down campus, he wrote, “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.”

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Brown University president Christina Paxton wrote that reopening college campuses this 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,” she wrote. She acknowledged the reality of upticks or resurgences in infection until a vaccine is developed, and that the plans to reopen must take that into account. “We can’t simply send students home and shift to remote learning every time this happens,” she wrote. “Colleges and universities must be able to safely handle the possibility of infection on campus while maintaining the continuity of their core academic functions.”

Mental and Behavioral Health

In Education Dive, Valerie Roberson, the president of Roxbury Community College, in Massachusetts, proposed ideas that, she says, can help community colleges and others not only survive the crisis, but find themselves in an even stronger position than before. The ideas include making health the top priority and focusing on student support that addresses needs that can be a barrier to completion, such as food insecurity and social-emotional support. She also suggests providing industry-ready skills that translate into jobs, and offering coursework that is honored by other schools to ensure that all credits from community college classes are transferable.

After two Duke University fraternity brothers in different chapters died by suicide on successive days this March, the Interfraternity Council has mandated each chapter have a mental health chair. IFC president Rohan Singh said, “While there are multiple resources available, there is a stigma around asking for help, especially in fraternities, which dissuades people from reaching out. I wanted to create a mental health chair to first be a point of contact for everyone in their respective chapters.” The position will also allow for a point person to relay information from Duke administrators to members of the chapters and allow for more dialogue on mental health issues.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The U.S. Department of Education announced that it is expanding a pilot program that is testing whether or not to allow people who are imprisoned to access Pell Grants. Sixty-seven colleges and universities are joining the experiment, called Second Chance Pell, bringing the total number of participants to 130 schools. Nearly 30 schools plan to deliver instruction remotely or through hybrid models.