Education

Risky Strategy by Many Private Colleges Leaves Them Exposed

Will my college go bankrupt?

It’s something many prospective college students want to know, as Nick Ducoff and Sabrina Manville learned when they founded a college advising company in 2018.

The previous decade had been especially hard for private colleges. Fewer students were enrolling in college, and some colleges responded by increasing spending to chase after the smaller group of applicants. Every year, a handful of small and relatively unknown colleges ran out of money, forcing students to search for a new academic home.

Mr. Ducoff, a former administrator at Northeastern University, and Ms. Manville, a former administrator at Southern New Hampshire University, looked for a credible list of financially vulnerable colleges and couldn’t find one. So they decided to create their own, using publicly available information about trends in colleges’ revenues, expenses, debts and cash reserves.

They assembled and were preparing to release a list of colleges that were headed toward insolvency. But when Inside Higher Ed, working on a news article to accompany the data, began to contact the colleges affected, angry emails and phone calls started pouring in.

Making such information public would be “grossly irresponsible and would cause great harm to the college,” one lawyer wrote, demanding that Mr. Ducoff’s and Ms. Manville’s small start-up firm, called Edmit, “refrain from publication.” Edmit didn’t have the money to fend off multiple lawsuits. It put the list in a drawer.

That was in November 2019, shortly before the first recorded coronavirus victim began showing symptoms in China.

The higher education landscape is now in chaos. Last year, 419 colleges were still accepting applications for the freshman class after the traditional May 1 deadline. This year, the number is 754, suggesting an enormous drop in demand. If campuses can’t open this fall, or students don’t return, the private higher education sector faces a financial asteroid strike. Edmit updated its projections accordingly and published a less specific version of them this month. The numbers suggest many colleges are now at risk.

Falling Into the Gap Year

It was only November when Hannah Book, 18, a high school student in Bryn Mawr, Pa., was accepted to her first choice, Emory College in Atlanta. “I got accepted early decision,” she said. “I was really excited, and my mom and I jumped up and down. I felt like all my hard work had paid off in that moment.”

But that day, when she had clarity about her future, now seems worlds away.

It’s become increasingly clear that she probably won’t have a traditional college experience in the fall. “I read this piece written by the president of Brown University, and she talked about all the different social distancing policies that colleges would have to install,” Ms. Book said. “The social environment that comes with college is so important to me. Now I don’t know what to do.”

She is thinking about taking a gap year and looking at the different activities she could do. “I contacted the Biden campaign, but there aren’t a ton of things volunteers can do online,” she said. “I’m thinking about trying to volunteer in my area at food banks or other places around town.” But she’s not sure if this will be possible, either.

With the June 1 deadline quickly approaching to ask her university for a deferral, Ms. Book is choosing between committing to an unknown college experience that could be remote or gap year programs that may not materialize.

“Senior spring is supposed to be this carefree time when you have your future planned out in front of you,” she said. “I am so worried I am going to make the wrong choice, and I am very overwhelmed by it.”

“I don’t want to have a lost year,” she added.

Many high school seniors who plan to attend college, already mourning the loss of their high school graduations, are now facing a Hobson’s choice. They can commit to going to college in the fall, though it may be virtual, or they can opt for a gap year, with limited opportunities.

“I’ve had gap year conversations with most of my seniors, which is unheard-of,” said Phoebe Keyes, the senior college admission adviser at Empire Edge, a tutoring company in New York City. “They are all waiting to pull the trigger until they know what is going to happen in the fall.”

“Our website is going bonkers,” said Ethan Knight, the executive director and founder at Gap Year Association, a nonprofit that helps connect recent high school graduates to experiential learning opportunities. “We have a list of 350 college deferral policies, and page views have gone up 250 percent from the same time last year.”

For Ms. Book, a gap year is something she never considered in the past. “I am someone who has always looked forward to college,” she said.

But for Devon Tyrie, 18, a high school senior who lives in Needham, Mass., and was accepted early to Middlebury College, the idea is appealing. In the spring of her junior year she completed the Island School, which takes students to the Bahamas to learn about marine and environmental science.

“The experiential learning really resonated with me,” she said. “It was a way to learn that I was a lot better at and is a lot more interesting than what I was doing in school. It opened my eyes to traveling before college.”

Before coronavirus Ms. Tyrie had been considering heading to Madagascar or Indonesia, to study marine conservation further. “What attracted me about a gap year was the opportunity to travel and explore and go on adventures,” she said.

Throughout the spring she has worked with Jane Goldstone Sarouhan, a founder of J2Guides, a gap year counseling service, to come up with other options. Ms. Sarouhan is encouraging all her clients to come up with Plan A (the optimal plan, with no restrictions and the entire world available), Plan B (some restrictions, like remote programs first semester and domestic travel second semester) and Plan C (a fully virtual program) in areas that interest them.

“I’m trying to really get students to look at what they achieve from their gap year,” Ms. Sarouhan said. “If a student wants to gain fluency in Spanish or get an internship in business, OK, we can do that virtually.”

Ms. Tyrie has found conservation programs that haven’t been canceled in Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, which may be exciting, but they are both up in the air.

“A few months ago I was choosing between going to college, which was super-awesome, or going on a gap year that was super-awesome,” she said. “Now I am choosing between not knowing what college is doing or not doing what I am doing in the fall for a gap year. I don’t want to just be sitting at home all year doing online things.”

She recently submitted a request to Middlebury to defer until the fall of 2021, and she is waiting to hear back from the dean of admissions.

Mr. Knight has been working with many organizations that are trying to get creative during the pandemic. Some are postponing start dates, maybe starting in October, not September. Others are shortening programs to bring costs down during hard economic times.

Some groups are planning on starting the year with remote learning and then transitioning into domestic travel with small groups. All participants will quarantine for two weeks before the program begins.

Janak Bhakta, 17, a high school senior in Tustin, Calif., was planning on spending next year working with a jaguar rescue center in Costa Rica. Now he’s looking at heading to Yosemite National Park instead to work with the wildcat population. (So far the program hasn’t been canceled.) “I realize you don’t get an opportunity to do something like this often during your life,” he said. “I still want to take that opportunity.” He will be attending Denison University after his gap year.

Some, though, have resigned themselves to staying on schedule.

In the past, Marco Tonda, 17, who lives in Sonoma County, Calif., considered doing a gap year at an anthropological site in Spain. But now he has decided to attend Reed College in Portland, Ore.

“I think at this point I would rather just get it over with and go for the online classes,” he said. “Maybe they will come up with a cool way of doing them.” (He said he has struggled with doing remote learning for high school. “I loved all my classes before quarantine,” he said. “But now whenever I am in class I feel very tired and can’t concentrate properly.”)

Mr. Tonda knows his decision will require patience. “When I visited Reed before the quarantine, I loved the atmosphere, I loved Portland, I loved the people I met,” he said. “I am very excited to go there, and I know I will be there in person eventually.”

It’s a choice his mother, Ana Keller, a winemaker, supports. “The certainty of having somewhere to go or something to do is very valuable,” she said. “The certainty of college is something we can count on right now.”

There is another group of parents who may be cheering on that decision: those of current high school juniors. They are afraid that if too many people defer college, there will be fewer spots for their children who are applying in 2021.

“If too many people don’t go to school until next fall, the pool will double,” said Heather Riggs, who lives in Wagoner, Okla., and has a daughter who is a junior. “How hard will it be for people to get into college with twice as many people applying? How many people will be in the pipeline for how many classes?”

But Ms. Riggs, who is retired, also has a daughter who is a college freshman. Originally, if classes would be online, she was encouraging her to take a gap year before heading to the University of Oklahoma for her sophomore year.

“The entire college experience is what you pay for,” Ms. Riggs said. “It’s about growing up and learning and making friends.” More recently, however, she and her daughter decided she will be heading to college in the fall.

Ms. Keyes, the adviser, said a lot of parents are struggling with the idea of their children taking college classes remotely. “Parents remember their own college experience, especially the early days of orientation, meeting friends, and moving into the dorms, so fondly that they’re sad their kids might miss out on that,” she said. “They are mourning the potential loss of that.”

But for the children, there may be something unforeseen to be gained. “Kids seem a little more excited by remote learning or taking a gap year,” Ms. Keyes said. “They are open to trying something new.”

How to Use AMCAS to Apply to Medical School

ASPIRING PHYSICIANS WHO dream of attending a U.S. medical school should know that getting an acceptance letter from one of these institutions is not an easy feat. Among prospective med students who sought admission in fall 2019, the average acceptance rate at ranked institutions that submitted admissions data to U.S. News was 6.7%.

Medical school hopefuls who are filling out their American Medical College Application Service forms, commonly known as AMCAS applications, should be thoughtful about the information and anecdotes they choose to share in these documents, experts say.

What Is the AMCAS?

AMCAS is a centralized medical school application system designed by the Association of American Medical Colleges, a nonprofit coalition of U.S. medical schools and teaching hospitals. The system allows students to simultaneously apply to multiple medical schools. It is solely available to first-year medical school applicants, so transfer applicants need to reach out directly to the school they are interested in attending rather than applying through AMCAS.

Some U.S. medical schools do not accept AMCAS applications. Osteopathic medical schools typically ask prospective students to apply via the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service, commonly known as the AACOMAS. In addition, public medical schools based in Texas typically require students to submit their admissions materials via the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service.

Because the AMCAS is often a pivotal factor in medical school admissions decisions, here is a guide on what the AMCAS application includes and how to compile an effective AMCAS application.

Overview of the AMCAS Application

An AMCAS application has nine parts.

The first three sections of the AMCAS involve providing basic background information. In section one, the student is asked to provide his or her name, birth date and other identifying information. In section two, he or she must provide information about schools attended, including every single postsecondary institution. Finally, in section three, students must answer biographical questions, including questions about citizenship status, criminal history, languages spoken and military service.

The fourth section requires students to give a detailed account of postsecondary courses they have taken and the grades they have received in those courses, including any withdrawals or incompletes, which are used to calculate an official grade point average

In the fifth section, a student describes his or her jobs and extracurricular activities and highlights the three most meaningful experiences. This is the portion of the application where a student can mention awards, honors or publications.

In the sixth section, students identify the people who will be writing their letters of recommendation. The seventh section is where students name the medical schools where they plan to send their application, specify whether they are applying for a standard M.D. program or a dual-degree program, indicate whether they want to participate in an early decision program and declare if they deferred an admission offer in a prior application year.

The eighth section is the essay portion of the application. The way someone fills out this section depends on whether he or she is applying to an M.D. program or an M.D.-Ph.D. program. All AMCAS applicants must write a personal essay, but M.D.-Ph.D. applicants are required to write two additional essays, one of which explains their rationale for choosing an M.D.-Ph.D. program as opposed to an M.D. program and another that describes their academic research.

The last AMCAS application section is where students must provide their MCAT scores. Any scores earned since 2003 must be included, unless those scores were voided at the time of the test. Students who are applying to a dual-degree program, which combines a traditional M.D. degree with another type of graduate degree such as a law degree or MBA degree, may be required to submit results from graduate school entrance exams like the GMAT, GRE, MAT or LSAT

When to Submit Your AMCAS Application and How to Meet AMCAS Deadlines

AMCAS deadlines vary depending on the medical schools where a student applies. Among the 145 medical schools that accept AMCAS applications, deadlines generally range from Oct. 15 to Dec. 1, though some schools have deadlines earlier or later.

However, medical school admissions experts say prospective students who submit AMCAS applications in the summer have a significant edge over students who apply later, because there are more interview spots available for summer applicants.

Dr. Anam Tariq, an internist and future nephrologist who soon finishes her nephrology fellowship at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says medical school hopefuls should begin their AMCAS application as soon as possible and allow plenty of time to work on it.

Tariq warns that the application process can be very time-consuming, not only for the applicant but also for those writing recommendation letters and submitting other materials on the applicant’s behalf, so it’s best not to attempt to finish at the last minute.

“It’s a giant portfolio, showing how incredible you are and why you are applying to these particular medical schools,” says Tariq, who chairs the student and resident committee of the Islamic Medical Association of North America. “You don’t want to sell yourself short.”

Creating a Unique and Interesting AMCAS Application

Medical school admissions experts say there are three places in the AMCAS application where a student can convey his or her personality: the work and activities section, recommendation letters and the personal comments essay.

AMCAS Work and Activities Section

Admissions officers say they are more impressed with work and activities lists that describe a student’s long-term commitments to his or her passions than lists that include numerous short-term projects, such as brief service trips. The quality of a student’s activities matters more than the number of activities, admissions officers suggest.

“I think applicants get so worried about saying that they’ve done everything that they forget to say what they’re really good with and what they really value,” says Dr. Flavia Nobay, an associate dean for admissions and professor of emergency medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

However, Nobay says students sometimes omit activities that ought to be on the activities list, such as jobs they have worked in order to put themselves through school.

“They won’t put that down, and what a mistake that is, because it means so much,” she says. “Medicine is hard work. Showing us that you work hard in your everyday life also matters, and that can be the value that you’re showing us. It doesn’t all have to be remarkable research or remarkable community service.”

Admissions experts say it is perfectly fine to list a project in the work and activities section that is unrelated to medicine or health care. In fact, experts say that including a nonprofessionally relevant endeavor in this section helps a student convey that he or she is well-rounded and has interests outside of science.

Keith Baker, assistant dean for admissions at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, says it is more impressive to him when a student has done community service work that is not related to the health care sector. When a premed student performs community service unrelated to health, it suggests the student is not doing good deeds simply out of a desire to improve his or her resume but rather because he or she genuinely cares about a community, he says.

Baker says hands-on volunteering experience, where students directly reach out to people in need, impresses him much more than charity work that does not require direct contact with needy individuals, such as fundraising.

“I like to say that the more hands-on, direct experiences you can have with people who you are serving looks much better than working in a sterile environment and in an indirect fashion,” he says

When students state in their AMCAS application that they intend to participate in an activity that is relevant to medical school, Baker adds, those future plans will not significantly improve their candidacy.

“Their profile essentially stops in time once they submit their application, meaning that we will consider experiences that have transpired but we do not really hold much weight on experiences that have yet to take place,” Baker warns. He says telling admissions officers that you are about to begin a health care job, such as a job as a medical scribe, is unlikely to significantly boost your acceptance.

AMCAS Recommendation Letters

Less is sometimes more when it comes to recommendation letters, admissions officers say.

Baker says it is a mistake for students to request recommendation letters from people who do not know them well, and submitting more letters than is required is not necessarily better than submitting the minimum number of letters.

He urges students to focus on getting recommendation letters from the mentors who are their very strongest advocates, because lukewarm endorsements are worthless. “The more opportunities you give letter writers to say something awkward or not flattering about you, the more opportunity there is for you to not look good,” he says

AMCAS Personal Comments Essay

Admissions officers say the personal essay someone includes in an AMCAS application should have a compelling argument for admission.

“You don’t have to be a Nobel laureate or a Pulitzer Prize winner to put your personal statement together,” Nobay says, “but it has to make sense and it has to answer the fundamental question of ‘Why medicine, and why me in medicine?’”

Nobay says her school receives about 6,000 applications annually, so it’s unlikely that someone would be admitted to her institution unless his or her application makes a positive impression.

Dry writing that doesn’t convey personality makes it difficult to assess a student’s core character traits and motivations, Nobay says. “What it becomes is like a bullet-point list of a thousand pieces of data, and it becomes really hard to put a picture together,” she says.

Medical school applicants should think about what makes them special and why they want to attend medical school before writing their AMCAS applications, she says.

 

University of California System to Drop SAT, ACT Requirement

THE UNIVERSITY OF California system is suspending the SAT and ACT testing requirement for applicants until 2024 and eliminating it entirely for in-state applicants by 2025, the regents decided Thursday in a vote that stands to reshape the entire higher education application process.

“I think this is an incredible step in the right direction toward aligning our admissions policy with the broad-based values of the University,” UC Board of Regents Chair John Pérez said before the vote. “I see our role as fiduciaries and stewards of the public good and this proposal before us is an incredible step in the right direction.”

The regents approved President Janet Napolitano’s five-year plan to phase out the testing requirements and develop an assessment of its own. The university system previously announced it would suspend the requirement to submit an SAT or ACT score in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic

Prior to that, in February, a task force assembled by the university system recommended that its schools continue to require applicants to submit a test score while also outlining a nearly decade-long path to replacing the current admission testing choices. The regents’ decision Thursday underscores the momentum building in the higher education community to drop the testing requirement as schools make more concerted efforts to diversify their campuses.

“Today’s decision by the Board marks a significant change for the University’s undergraduate admissions,” Napolitano said in a statement. “We are removing the ACT/SAT requirement for California students and developing a new test that more closely aligns with what we expect incoming students to know to demonstrate their preparedness for UC.”

The decision has implications that stretch beyond California. The University of California system is the largest in the country and serves more than 280,000 students at 10 campuses. Dropping the testing requirement, many education experts have said, would set off a chain reaction that puts the fate of college entrance exams on the line.

“The impacts of this decision will be both profound and far-reaching,” Bob Schaeffer, the interim executive director of FairTest: the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said in a statement. “[We] expect many colleges and universities now in the process of evaluating their own admissions testing mandates to heed the message from California and adopt ACT/SAT-optional policies.”

As it stands, more than 1,225 colleges and universities have test-optional policies in place for fall 2021 applicants, according to FairTest. In 2020 alone, more than 150 additional colleges and universities have decided to drop the SAT and ACT requirements for at least one year.

The decision also deals a blow to the College Board, which administers the SAT, and the ACT – companies that have both weathered consecutive years of mounting pressure from college access advocacy groups, civil rights groups and others who have questioned the fairness of the test and brought the issue into the national spotlight.

The University of California system, in particular, has been under increasing pressure to alter its admissions process.

In December, students, parents, public school districts and education advocacy groups sued the University of California system, arguing that its admission requirement that applicants submit an SAT or ACT score is illegal, unconstitutional and discriminatory.

The decision to drop the testing requirement also comes as college admissions across the country has been under increased scrutiny in the wake of the largest college admission scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice. The case exposed a long-running racketeering scheme dating back to 2011, in which parents paid a college counselor a combined $25 million to help students cheat on college entrance exams and gain them admission to elite colleges and universities as recruited athletes when in reality they were not athletes at all.

Among those implicated by the scandal was the University of California, Los Angeles, where a parent allegedly paid $400,000 to gain her son admission as a fake soccer recruit.

 

What to Know About Pass-Fail Classes in College

As colleges open up pass-fail options due to COVID-19, students should be aware the approach differs by school.

AS THE NOVEL coronavirus disrupts education on a global scale, shifting courses online and prompting campuses to close, colleges in the U.S. are extending a potential lifeline to concerned students: the option to take pass or fail classes.

College officials see the pass-fail grading option as a way to allow students to focus on learning outcomes rather than a letter grade, which could ease pressure on students.

“This benefits students in this moment by providing more agency and flexibility to students within an ever-shifting set of circumstances that few people saw coming,” says Anne Harris, vice president for academic affairs and dean of Grinnell College in Iowa.

Grinnell decided in mid-March to offer pass-fail classes as the coronavirus – which causes a disease known as COVID-19 – prompted the clearing of campuses and great uncertainty in higher ed. Colleges across the country are increasingly shifting the grading system to pass-fail options, though some have held out with plans to issue letter grades despite concerns raised by students.

Eric Boynton, provost and dean of Beloit College in Wisconsin, referred to the pandemic as “a moment of uncertainty and increased anxiety” for students that prompted the school to offer pass-fail options.

“In these circumstances, students’ mental and physical health must take priority over the achievement of high letter grades,” Oliver M. O’Reilly, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of California—Berkeley and chair of UCB’s academic senate, wrote in an email.

Like many other colleges, UC—Berkeley offers a pass-fail option. It’s called passed-not passed and is now the default system for all undergraduates this term, although for a limited time they may choose to switch to a letter grade. Instructors continue to track letter grades in order to issue those marks if requested by students.

As students consider opting in to pass-fail classes at their respective colleges, here’s what they should know.

How Pass-Fail Classes Work in College

Ultimately, pass-fail classes mean there is a lower threshold for successfully completing a class with no penalty to GPA, thus relieving some academic pressures.

Forget the traditional A to F grading structure. Pass-fail classes have two outcomes: a student either passes or does not.

While the notion of pass-fail grading may be straightforward, the language around it can differ by college. “We’re finding out different schools have many different names for it,” Harris says.

Some schools use the term pass-fail, and others label such courses credit-no credit or satisfactory-unsatisfactory.

The language around pass-fail classes isn’t the only thing that varies by college. Students should also be aware that schools are rolling out pass-fail classes in different ways.

While students can opt in to pass-fail classes or choose to receive a traditional letter grade at some colleges, other schools are moving to mandatory pass-fail grading models. Students should check their college’s website for clarity on how pass-fail classes work at their school, experts say. Information on grading policies should be available on the college’s registrar page or as part of COVID-19 FAQs posted by schools.

What to Consider When Opting for Pass-Fail Classes

Despite the stress of trying to achieve high marks during the current academic turmoil, some students still want letter grades. The reason, experts say, is largely related to transcripts for graduate school applications.

“We know that some students will prefer letter grades as they apply for graduate school or for other reasons,” O’Reilly says. “Providing the option of pass/no pass or letter grades acknowledges that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.”

Harris says Grinnell decided to leave it up to students to choose between pass-fail and a letter grade due to grad school considerations. An opt-in policy will allow Grinnell students to decide which route to go by April 10, but that is another consideration that varies by college.

Students can opt to receive letter grades until May 6 at Beloit and UC—Berkeley, while others have pushed dates out even later. Students should check with their college for deadlines and other specifics.

Students may also have the option to choose some courses as pass-fail while receiving a letter grade for other classes. That, too, depends on an individual college’s policy.

If a student is acing one class while struggling in another, he or she may want to go pass-fail for the harder course. Harris encourages students to seek academic advising to help them decide on the best way forward.

“This is the time for conversations with academic advisers as much as possible,” Harris says.

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New York City Tells Teachers to Stop Using Zoom for Distance Learning

TEACHERS IN NEW YORK City, the country’s largest school district, must stop using Zoom to conduct online classes while schools are closed for their 1.1 million students – a decision made after a handful of reports of security concerns.

 

The decision is just the latest hiccup in the massive shift to distance learning for the 55 million children for whom school is closed as the coronavirus sweeps across the country.

“We know how hard you and your staff worked to quickly acclimate to videoconferencing tools, and we urgently worked over the weekend to preserve some widely used options while establishing clarity on those that pose a risk to privacy or security,” Ursulina Ramirez, chief operating officer of New York City’s Department of Education, wrote in an email sent Sunday to principals.

School officials first announced plans to move away from Zoom last week, saying the platform posed security concerns for teachers and students. The move comes on the heels of an FBI warning to educators who use Zoom to teach about security risks, including classroom hijacking, after it received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic and hate images and threatening language.

In a memo posted March 30, the FBI detailed two instances at schools in Massachusetts, one in which an unidentified person dialed into a high school class, yelled profanities and shouted the teacher’s name and address. In the second report, an unidentified person logged into a virtual class and displayed swastika tattoos.

New York City school officials are directing teachers to instead use video conferencing platforms provided by Google or Microsoft, and are making training available to those who had been using Zoom.

“We are in continued conversations with Zoom on potential future use of the platform,” Ramirez wrote. “However, until then, our guidance from Friday remains in place: while we recognize the transition won’t happen overnight for many of you, we are asking schools to transition away from Zoom and to other platforms.”

For those still using Zoom, the FBI’s biggest recommendation is to make the meetings private, not public, since private meetings require a meeting password or use a “waiting room” feature that allows teachers to control the admittance of guests.

FBI officials also urged teachers to ensure only the host can share material, warning that not doing so allows others to take over the meeting at any point and share their screen. They also suggest not sharing a link to virtual meetings on public social media posts, which would allow anyone to click to join, and instead provide a link to connect directly with students.

In addition, the FBI recommends users have the latest edition of online meeting platforms like Zoom because security settings are frequently updated. In January, for example, Zoom updated its software by adding passwords by default for meetings and disabling the ability to randomly scan for meetings to join.

Richard Carranza, New York City Schools chancellor, said during a press conference on Sunday that he expected teachers to “gradually transition” to a new platform.

“If you are currently using Zoom for videoconferencing, we are ready to support you in a transition as quickly as possible,” Ramirez wrote to principals. “We know that for many of you, that won’t mean overnight, but we’ll be supporting you with numerous trainings and guidance to help this process start quickly.”

 

 

Connecticut Extends School Closures to May 20

The governor announced on Thursday that he was extending school closures in the ‘interests of public health.’

SCHOOLS ACROSS Connecticut will remain closed until at least May 20, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday.

Schools had previously been ordered to close until April 20, but the governor extended the closure “in the best interests of public health,” he tweeted.

Health officials report more than 8,780 cases of the coronavirus in Connecticut, and 335 people have died.

The governor said he will be joined by Miguel Cardona, the state’s commissioner of education, at a press conference later Thursday to provide students and families with more information.

 

While an official announcement will be made within the next day, Lamont also said it’s likely the state will also extend the closure of bars, restaurants and nonessential businesses.

During a teleconference with small businesses, Lamont said new COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped to their lowest level in two weeks, The Hartford Courant reported. Additionally, hospitalizations in Fairfield County, which was hit first and hardest by the outbreak, decreased by one.

“So we think that curve is bending,” Lamont said, according to the Courant, “and we hope that if we continue the social distancing that we will have the capacity we need in our hospital system.”

 

College Board Ready to Offer At-Home SAT

We know students and educators are worried about how the coronavirus may disrupt the college admissions process, and we want to do all we can to help alleviate that anxiety during this very demanding time,” College Board CEO David Coleman said during a press call Wednesday. “In the unfortunate and unlikely possibility that schools do not open this fall, the College Board will be ready to provide a digital SAT at home.”

Coleman characterized the scenario as “increasingly unlikely” and one that would require at-home proctoring on a scale never before seen.

“We would much rather see schools reopen,” he said. “But we will be ready.”

College Board officials said they are experimenting with a variety of security software that can, for example, lock the entire computer other than the software that allows students to take the test, as well as use the device’s camera and microphone to monitor any movement and noise.

College Board officials compared an at-home digital administration of the SAT to how the organization is currently allowing 3 million students to take modified versions of AP exams at home.

“If we are forced to deliver a digital SAT at home, we will double our efforts to confront the digital divide,” Coleman said, adding that the College Board is prepared to work with states and school districts to provide technology or Wi-Fi hot spots to ensure that any student who wishes to take the SAT can do so.

Should public health officials say it’s safe, the College Board plans to offer weekend SAT administrations every month through the end of the calendar year, beginning in August. Students will be able to register in May for the August, September and October administrations, with priority going to students expected to graduate in 2021 who do not yet have an SAT score.

For states and school districts that had planned to offer 770,000 students a chance to take the SAT for free during the school day in the spring but couldn’t because of school closures, the College Board will provide a make-up day in the fall.

As of early April, 760,000 students in the class of 2021 already received an SAT score, College Board officials said, but they also estimate that about 1 million first-time SAT takers were unable to test this spring because of school closures, the vast majority of whom would have taken the test through a school day administration.

The news comes as dozens of colleges and universities drop the requirement that students submit an SAT or ACT score to be considered for admission – a decision that was already gaining popularity among schools trying to diversify their student bodies but one that the coronavirus pandemic has now accelerated.

Some higher education experts see this as a watershed moment for the admission requirement.

“The uncertainty caused by the pandemic and the announcement that the College Board has temporarily suspended the administration of the SAT as it seeks ‘an at-home style solution’ will most certainly continue the trend towards placing less weight on standardized tests,” Ronald Ehrenberg, a professor at Cornell University and the director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, says.

In the first seven days of April alone, at least 30 schools announced test-optional admissions policies for the high school class of 2021, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, and another 44 temporarily waived testing requirements, including elite private and public colleges and universities like Williams College, Tufts University, Virginia Tech and the University of California system.

College Board officials said that, because of the unprecedented pandemic, they support college and university admission decisions that offer students flexibility when it comes to submitting an SAT score or not – though they’ve been critical of the move in the past.

“We support colleges and our members totally in whatever flexibilities they adopt in these very challenging times,” Coleman said.

“This virus hits students very differently depending on their circumstances,” he added. “There has never been an event that I can recall that’s laid bare the division and inequalities in our society.”

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4 major education trends that will influence schools in 2020

The education landscape is transforming before our very eyes, where teaching approaches are becoming more student-centered and classroom designs are becoming more flexible in schools to allow for more collaborative learning.

With the rapid growth of the educational technology industry, teaching methods today are also relying more and more on technologies like artificial intelligence and even robots.

In this era of disruptive technologies, what’s in store for your school in 2020? Here’s a look at some key education trends that will shape and influence schools in the coming year.

The role of the teacher in schools is slowly changing. Instead of feeding information to students and lecturing from the front of the room, teachers are playing a facilitating role instead – guiding students towards thinking for themselves and carrying out projects and activities for students to work on in groups.

Assisting teachers in this new role is artificial intelligence (AI). According to Online Education for Higher Ed, AI use in US classrooms will grow by 47.5 percent in the next three years.

The technology is predicted to allow teachers more time to focus on more human-specific teaching skills like emotional intelligence and creativity. AI will take over the time-consuming and monotonous tasks like checking papers for plagiarism or tests.

Hybrid homeschooling

Parents who choose to homeschool their kids have plenty of support nowadays thanks to technology. If they have gaps in their knowledge or are unable to teach a subject effectively, they can use online modules or face-to-face classes in a more traditional schooling environment to supplement their education.

This is known as hybrid homeschooling, and it’s predicted to become more popular in years to come. It allows for more flexibility, particularly for parents who want to homeschool their children but are unable in one way or another to do so.

Mike McShane, director of national research at US education reform organisation EdChoice wrote in Forbes: “For many families, the costs and obligations related to homeschooling are simply too burdensome. Some parents don’t have the confidence in their own abilities to teach every subject to their children. Others cannot devote themselves to homeschooling full-time. Perhaps most of all, many homeschooling families want their children to socialise with other children to learn how to share, cooperate and get along with others.

“Enter hybrid homeschooling, a model where children split their time between homeschool and a more traditional schooling environment. This could be three days at home and two days at school, two days at home and three days at school, part of the day at home and part of the day at schools, or a variety of other options.”

AR is becoming popular in schools, allowing more three-dimensional experiences that bring abstract concepts to life for students.

This interactive experience adds digital elements by using a camera on a smartphone to a live view, such as Snapchat filters.

In classrooms, AR animated content could be a tool to motivate children to study. They can understand topics better if extra data – such as fun facts, historical information or visual 3D models – are added to classroom lessons. Or when they can scan parts of their books, there are texts, audio snippets or videos from teachers that pop up.

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7 higher education trends to watch in 2020

College consolidation, partnerships with employers and the effects of deregulation are among the topics we’ll have our eye on this year.

Higher education made a striking number of headlines in 2019, in part due to the Varsity Blues scandal that exposed the seedier aspects of college admissions and attracted nationwide attention for its celebrity perpetrators.

But last year brought other changes and controversies to higher ed. Conversations about how to keep struggling small colleges alive have resulted in new state accountability legislation, the first of its kind. And the myriad Democratic presidential contenders are pushing college affordability on the campaign trail — from sweeping free college proposals to cash infusions for troubled historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Below are seven issues affecting higher ed in 2019 that we expect to dominate the ever-changing landscape in the new year.

College closures and mergers

A rash of factors is threatening the financial health of small institutions, particularly in New England and the Midwest, where several shut their doors last year.

Moody’s Investors Service predicts around 15 closures for 2020. High-profile cases such as the abrupt demise of Mount Ida College in 2018 have drawn policymakers to this issue. Despite the clout of Massachusetts’ private colleges, the state legislature late last year passed a unique law that increased oversight of their finances and could help alert state regulators to an imminent closure. Pundits believe these measures could serve as a model for other jurisdictions.

The timing of a shutdown — when the campus and the public should be warned —​ has been a pressure point for the sector. That was demonstrated in November, when Inside Higher Ed tried to publish a forecast of when private colleges might close. Anxiety and outrage were immediate among some institutions on the list, including one that threatened to sue.

The problem of unpredictable closures isn’t confined to private colleges, though. For-profit institutions are still under scrutiny after a series of collapses in the last several years. Observers are still trying to determine the circumstances under which the U.S. Department of Education and accreditors would step in to address floundering for-profits’ finances and ensure students can complete their programs.

Some college operators have attempted to rebrand and even spin off their institutions as nonprofits, but 2019 showed potential roadblocks ahead for those trying to do so.

The consolidation trend is affecting some public systems, too. Recently, the University of Alaska System proposed merging its three accredited campuses into a single entity as a way to absorb the blow of massive state cuts, but that idea has since been rejected.

Effects of deregulation

The Ed Department spent 2019 completing or finalizing several regulatory measures, some of which remove policy changes that the Obama administration championed. Critics of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fear these rules will remove critical surveillance from areas of higher ed.

This fall, the department issued final regulations on accreditors and state authorization for distance education, which will go into effect on July 1.

Among their changes, the rules remove geographic restrictions for accreditors and make it easier for institutions to get programs approved. But as pundits have pointed out, accreditors already sometimes fail to hold colleges and universities in their purview accountable. The Ed Department recently flagged possible compliance issues with the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, an accreditor that has already had its federal recognition pulled for allegedly not adequately monitoring its colleges.

New regulations on Title IX, the federal sex discrimination law, are expected early this year. They will likely be similar to a draft version the department published in 2018, giving colleges and universities more flexibility to adjudicate campus sexual assault cases. The new regulations force administrators to allow cross-examination and narrow the definition of sexual harassment.