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Live Updates: Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education - Inside Higher Ed

Live Updates: Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education - Inside Higher Ed


Live Updates: Latest News on Coronavirus and Higher Education - Inside Higher Ed

Posted: 16 Apr 2020 07:24 AM PDT

Partisan Disagreement in Congress Over Emergency Aid and DACA Students

April 22, 6:03 p.m. In making the controversial decision to exclude so-called DACA college students from being eligible for emergency aid during the pandemic, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said the CARES Act coronavirus relief package passed by Congress forbade it.

But that was quickly disputed by advocates on behalf of the college students who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. They said nothing in the bill said the students should be excluded.

Asked to clarify whether they intended for the DACA students to be able to get the grants for such things as finding housing if their campuses closed, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate education committee disagreed over the intent of the stimulus bill on how to treat the students.

A Republican aide on the Senate's education committee, speaking on behalf of Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennesee, the committee's chairman, said, "DACA recipients are not eligible for federal funds under the Higher Education Act. The senator believes Washington needs to fix our broken immigration system, but until then, it is likely that federal funds will continue to be restricted. It's Congress's fault for not fixing our immigration system, and the senator thinks that should be high on the priority list when the current COVID-19 crisis is over."

But Democrats on the committee said the intent was for the students to be able to get the help. The committee's top Democrat, Senator Patty Murray of Washington, said in a statement, "Of course federal resources should go to students and institutions with the most need during this crisis. But if Secretary DeVos really cared about making sure those in need get relief, she should reverse her unauthorized guidance that restricts DACA recipients and other vulnerable students from receiving desperately needed financial support."

-- Kery Murakami


Harvard University Rejects Stimulus Funding

April 22, 4:30 p.m. Following mounting political pressure, Harvard University announced today that it will not accept the federal stimulus funding it was awarded.

As part of the CARES Act, Harvard University was allocated just under $8.7 million. President Trump this week said the university would have to "pay back the money" because it had "one of the largest endowments anywhere in the country, maybe the world, I guess."

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos praised Stanford University today for rejecting its stimulus funding. Princeton University has also announced that it would not accept the money.

Earlier this week Harvard said it intended to allocate 100 percent of the federal funding to students in need.

"There has been confusion in recent days about funds allocated to Harvard as part of the CARES Act," the university said in a statement today.

"We have previously said that Harvard, like other institutions, will face significant financial challenges due to the pandemic and the economic crisis it has caused," the statement said.

It continues, "We are also concerned however, that the intense focus by politicians and others on Harvard in connection with this program may undermine participation in a relief effort that Congress created and the President signed into law for the purpose of helping students and institutions whose financial challenges in the coming months may be most severe."

"As a result of this, and the evolving guidance being issued around use of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, Harvard has decided not to seek or accept the funds allocated to it by statute."

The institution said that disbursement of the funding would be decided by the Department of Education but requested that "special consideration" be given to Massachusetts institutions that are struggling.

-- Lindsay McKenzie


Princeton Rejects Stimulus, Citing DACA and International Students

April 22, 2:52 p.m. Princeton University said in a statement posted on Twitter that it would not accept federal stimulus money under the CARES Act, and that it has not received or requested any of these funds.

The university cited both students who are DACA recipients and international students as part of the reason it would reject the money.

Congress allocated the emergency and institutional aid under the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill so that colleges and universities could support Pell Grant recipients and other students who have been impacted by the pandemic, Princeton said. But the university's no-loan financial packages and other programs "are designed to provide exceptional levels of support to our students, including DACA beneficiaries and international students," Princeton said.

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Education announced that DACA students would not be eligible for emergency aid from the CARES Act.

"We remain committed to providing this support," said the statement from Princeton.

-- Paul Fain


DeVos Asks Wealthy Colleges to Reject Stimulus Funding

April 22, 1:43 p.m. The head of the Department of Education is calling on wealthy colleges and universities to reject stimulus funding allocated by Congress and is also asking Congress to change eligibility requirements for the program.

"Congress required by law that taxpayer Emergency Relief funds be given to all colleges and universities, no matter their wealth," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement. "But 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. 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."

The statement comes less than a day after President Trump said that Harvard University should pay back money it is due under a formula in the federal stimulus package. It came the same day that Stanford University said it will not collect $7.4 million in stimulus funding it was due to receive under the CARES Act.

DeVos cheered Stanford on Twitter for its decision, saying wealthy institutions don't need the money and that they should embrace the Shake Shack principle of leaving money for those in greatest need. That's a reference to the fast-casual restaurant chain Shake Shack giving back money it received under a separate stimulus loan program.

On April 9, DeVos sent a letter to college and university presidents urging those that didn't need financial help to consider giving stimulus allocations to their states or regions that were in need.

The coronavirus relief package for higher education that's in question allocated a total of about $14 billion to colleges and universities, many of which have been hard hit as revenue dried up and costs mounted amid the coronavirus crisis. A large chunk of the funding was allocated to colleges and universities based on a formula prioritizing those enrolling a large number of students receiving Pell Grants, which are designed to go to low-income students.

-- Rick Seltzer


Trudeau Announces Emergency Funding for Canadian Students

April 22, 1:13 p.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada announced a plan for emergency relief measures for students worth nearly nine billion Canadian dollars (about $6.4 billion), including monthly payments of 1,250 Canadian dollars (about $884) from May to August for students and new graduates. Students who are disabled or who are taking care of dependents will be eligible for monthly payments of 1,750 Canadian dollars (about $1,236).

Trudeau also announced a new Canada Student Service Grant, which will provide students who do volunteer service this summer up to 5,000 Canadian dollars (about $3,500) toward their educations.

Other measures announced for the fall include doubling the Canada Student Grants for eligible full-time students, broadening eligibility for student financial assistance by removing expected contributions from the student and his or her spouse from aid calculations for the 2020-21 academic year, increasing the maximum weekly student loan payment, and increasing targeted funding for indigenous students. Trudeau also announced an additional 291.6 million Canadian dollars (about $206 million) for federal research funding councils to extend expiring federal graduate research fellowships and postdoctoral fellowships and to supplement existing grants.

"The future of our economy and our country relies on the opportunities and support we provide to Canadian students today," Trudeau said in a statement. "To promote a sustainable economic recovery, we need a strong workforce and good job opportunities for young people. That means giving them the support they need to continue their studies and encouraging them to serve their communities. Together, we will get through this difficult time."

As The Globe and Mail reported, Parliament will have to be recalled to pass enabling legislation.

-- Elizabeth Redden


Stanford University Turns Away Relief Funding

April 22, 12:45 p.m. Stanford University announced today that it will not be collecting its $7.4 million check from the CARES Act, the federal stimulus package providing money for colleges and universities.

"Like all universities, Stanford is facing significant financial pressures during this time of unprecedented uncertainty," the university tweeted. "However, we realize that this crisis represents an existential threat for many of the smaller colleges and universities that are such a critical part of the fabric of higher learning in the United States."

University officials contacted the Department of Education on Monday morning to ask that their application for relief funding be rescinded.

Approximately $3.7 million of the stimulus funding awarded to Stanford was required to be spent as emergency financial aid for students. Stanford indicated that it would honor this, tweeting that leaders "remain fully committed to the financial aid that has been promised" to students.

Wealthy institutions with large endowments are under mounting pressure not to collect the funds they were awarded under the CARES Act. This week President Trump called out Harvard University, promising that it would "pay back the money" it was awarded. Harvard was allocated $8.6 million in relief funding.

Harvard has said that all of the money it received would be allocated to student financial assistance.

-- Lindsay McKenzie


Mellon Foundation to Give $4 Million in Emergency Grants to American Indian College Fund

April 22, 12:15 p.m. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has announced that it will be giving a $4 million emergency relief grant to the American Indian College Fund to support students at tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) whose education has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

"TCUs have been disproportionately and devastatingly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, due to historical inequities, structural and enrollment-related challenges, and overly burdened institutional financial aid budgets," the foundation said in a release.

The CARES Act gives $20 million in immediate assistance to TCUs through the Bureau of Indian Education, but the American Indian Higher Education Consortium says that funding falls short of the $140 million that's needed to address challenges. The consortium also reports that TCUs collectively have the slowest internet access at the highest average cost compared to any other group of institutions in the country.

"TCUs are among the most under-resourced institutions in the country, and TCU students are among the financially poorest," the consortium said in its release.

-- Lilah Burke


Tips and Resources for Distributing Emergency Aid

April 22, 11:20 a.m. MDRC, a nonprofit research group, has released guidelines for colleges to quickly and equitably distribute the more than $6 billion in emergency aid for college students that was included in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.

The group drew from previous research and lessons learned that can help colleges to better ensure the money goes to students who may benefit the most from the aid. Among suggested best practices are for institutional leaders to keep eligibility requirements simple and broad. MDRC also said colleges should use multiple channels to communicate aid availability widely, and to make sure students know the grants are not loans.

"Don't offer aid in a vacuum," the group said. "Use the emergency aid application process as a chance to connect students with other student support services and resources whenever possible."

-- Paul Fain


SNHU Rolls Out Big Tuition Cut, Scholarship and Hybrid Approach for Campus Model

April 22, 10:25 a.m. Southern New Hampshire University will reduce its tuition for campus-based programs to $10,000 a year by 2021, a 61 percent cut. The private university, which is one of the nation's largest with more than 132,000 students enrolled, most of them online, also will offer a one-time scholarship to all incoming campus-based freshmen that will cover 100 percent of tuition for the 2020-21 academic year.

In addition, the university said in a statement that it was redefining its campus-based learning model for the fall of 2021 so students can choose one or a combination of the following modalities:

  • Course-based/online -- All courses are taken online with the option to live on campus;
  • Course-based/hybrid -- All courses taken online with face-to-face support from faculty and the option to live on campus.
  • Project-based -- Students will take courses through a project-based model with learning coaches and other academic supports with the option to live on campus.

SNHU also said it was considering other strategic changes, such as moving all of its programs (including online ones) to a common term calendar and centralizing student services.

The university for years has been experimenting with different campus models and other alternative degree pathways, including its online "direct assessment" degree program, which is an aggressive form of competency-based education. SNHU said the pandemic, recession and "great uncertainty" facing higher education led to the acceleration of that work.

"We knew that a traditional college education was increasingly out of reach for a majority of Americans before the COVID-19 pandemic hit," Paul LeBlanc, SNHU's president and CEO, said in a statement. "Now, with the nation facing massive unemployment, there are even more students who find themselves unable to afford an on-campus experience, and more than ever, students need access to high-quality, affordable degree pathways that are workforce relevant and won't saddle them with years of debt upon graduation."

-- Paul Fain


Trump Targets Harvard, Setting Off New Round of Debate

April 22, 9:55 a.m. Debate about wealthy colleges and universities receiving federal stimulus money is alive this morning after President Trump yesterday said Harvard University should pay back money it received under a formula in the CARES Act.

"Harvard's going to pay back the money," Trump said at his Tuesday evening news briefing. "They have one of the largest endowments anywhere in the country, maybe in the world, I guess, and they're going to pay back that money."

The federal stimulus package allocated money to colleges and universities of all types across the country based on a formula that was weighted toward institutions enrolling a large number of students who quality for Pell Grants, which are designed to be awarded to low-income students. That formula called for Harvard to receive a total of about $8.7 million, with $4.3 million reserved for emergency financial aid for students.

Those were far from the largest awards under the formula. The top institution was Arizona State University, at more than $63.5 million. And those receiving the largest allocations were overwhelmingly large public institutions. The largest for a private nonprofit institution, $32.3 million, went to Brigham Young University.

The formula for distributing stimulus money was established by Congress. It was "purely mechanical," said Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, according to The New York Times.

Trump made his comments after being asked about another federal stimulus program intended for businesses. That program is separate from the one under which colleges and universities are to receive funding.

"Harvard did not apply for, nor has it received any funds through the U.S. Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses. Reports saying otherwise are inaccurate," the university tweeted. "President Trump is right that it would not have been appropriate for our institution to receive funds that were designated for struggling small businesses."

Conservatives had already been targeting Harvard for receiving the higher ed stimulus money earlier this week. Harvard responded that it planned to dedicate all stimulus money it received to students facing urgent financial needs due to the pandemic.

Sniping continues this morning on social media. Conservative publications have also picked up and expanded the line of attack, with The Federalist publishing a piece titled "Filthy-Rich Harvard Isn't The Only University Taxpayers Shouldn't Bail Out."

-- Rick Seltzer


Stimulus Funds Made Available for Institutions

April 21, 3:35 p.m. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced she is making available the $6.2 billion Congress earmarked in the CARES Act to help institutions deal with the financial fallout of the pandemic. DeVos also released the requirements institutions have been waiting to see, dictating how the money can be used.

Under those rules, institutions will be able to use the money to reimburse themselves for what they've spent to give refunds to students for room and board, and other services like internet access. The rules also include prohibitions on using the money for certain purposes, including marketing, recruiting students and increasing endowments.

"This pandemic has made clear every single education institution should make important investments to ensure learning continues when unexpected circumstances arise," DeVos said in a statement. "Accordingly, the additional funds made available today can be used to expand remote learning programs, build IT capacity and train faculty and staff to operate in a remote learning environment so that at any moment institutions can pivot quickly."

The funding is separate from the additional $6 billion last month's stimulus relief bill set aside for emergency grants to students impacted by campus closures and the shift to online classes.

However, DeVos, in the instructions released Tuesday, urged colleges to use much of the funds earmarked for institutions on giving more emergency grants to students, especially if they have significant endowments or other resources.

Under the stimulus package, money from both funds is apportioned to colleges and universities based on a formula weighted toward institutions with the most low-income Pell Grant recipients.

-- Kery Murakami


Cal State Fullerton Plans to Start Fall Courses Online

April 21, 3:06 p.m. California State University at Fullerton is planning to start the fall semester with online courses, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"Based on what we know, we are planning to go to a virtual course delivery in the fall semester," the university said in a statement. "But we will monitor the notices from the various health agencies so we can pivot to other modalities."

A spokesman for the CSU system said Fullerton is the only one of the 23 CSU campuses to make a determination about the fall term. The University of California's 10 campuses are also still considering different options for the fall and have not yet made decisions.

-- Elizabeth Redden


Davidson College Offers Deferred Tuition for Fall

April 21, 2:13 p.m. North Carolina's Davidson College is offering its students the option of deferring tuition bills for this upcoming fall semester. Students, including those who first enroll at the college this fall, can receive their tuition bills in July 2021. All except seniors can defer paying until August 2021. Seniors who graduate next spring can defer the fall semester bill until April 2021, the college said in a statement.

Davidson, a relatively wealthy institution, practices need-blind admissions and meets the demonstrated financial need of all students. Its aid awards comprise grants and work-study jobs, not packaged loans.

Students who take the deferral option can postpone paying part or all of the full family contribution, which is the tuition amount not covered by scholarships or financial aid.

The college appears to be among the nation's first, if not the first, to offer such a deferral option. Davidson said it will decide later whether to extend the same offer for the spring 2021 semester.

"Our primary purpose is the development of humane instincts, discipline and creativity as key to preparing students for lives of leadership and service," Alison Hall Mauzé, chair of Davidson's Board of Trustees, said in a statement. "This adaptation to their urgent needs reflects that purpose and helps us send more of them into the world at a time when we need these smart, driven and kind people."

-- Paul Fain


Franciscan U's Tuition Plan for Incoming Students

April 21, 1:55 p.m. Franciscan University's Board of Trustees on Saturday unanimously approved its new Step in Faith program, which will provide tuition assistance to incoming students.

The program will cover remaining tuition expenses after grants and scholarships for full-time, on-campus, first-year students. It will also create a "special financial aid fund" for returning students "who are experiencing significant financial hardship due to COVID-19," according to a news release.

Students will still be responsible for room and board fees.

-- Emma Whitford


Groups Worry Students Will Pay Taxes on Grants

April 21, 1:20 p.m. A coalition of 42 higher education groups is asking congressional leaders to specify that college students will not have to pay taxes on the emergency grant funds from the $2.2 trillion stimulus.

Under the CARES Act, Congress said half of the $14 billion in aid for higher education had to be given to students through grants to help them deal with costs related to campus closures due to the pandemic.

But in a letter to the Democratic and Republican leaders on the House and Senate tax committees, the groups, including associations representing higher education institutions, expressed concern the grants apparently are taxable under the current tax code.

"Taxing this emergency aid would undermine the benefit of the grants to students and negate the intent of Congress in authorizing the aid to help the most vulnerable students. We believe that this is an unintended consequence," the American Council on Education's president, Ted Mitchell, wrote on behalf of the groups.

The Treasury Department does not believe it can change the code. So Congress will have to act, Mitchell said, as it considers a future coronavirus relief package.

-- Kery Murakami


Franklin U to Close Urbana Branch Campus

April 21, 11:00 a.m. Franklin University, which is located in Columbus, Ohio, bought the struggling Urbana University in 2014. Franklin spent millions to convert the university, which is located 50 miles from Franklin's main campus, into a branch campus.

Now, citing the pandemic, Franklin's leaders have announced plans to shut down the branch campus. It will close in May.

Like many small rural campuses across the country, the Urbana University Branch Campus has experienced low enrollments for many years. Franklin University's efforts to stabilize the Urbana campus have met with some success in recent years. However, the global coronavirus pandemic has added a level of stress and uncertainty to Urbana's prospects that make it impossible to sustain, compelling Franklin University to discontinue physical operations on the branch campus effective after the May Spring 2020 semester has ended. As a result of this decision, academic programming will be moved to Franklin University, while athletic offerings and on-site administrative services will cease at the branch campus.

-- Paul Fain


Growing Worries About Student Loan Debt

April 21, 10:40 a.m. Growing numbers of young Americans are feeling financial strains due to student loan debt and education costs amid the pandemic, according to a survey of millennial and Gen Z investors conducted by E*TRADE earlier this month.

Among respondents who were under age 30, the survey found that 26 percent said they have withdrawn from their retirement account to pay for education costs, an increase of seven percentage points since January. More than three-quarters of respondents with student debt (76 percent) said education costs were the top barrier to saving for retirement, up four percentage points since January. Health-care costs were second at 71 percent, up six percentage points since January. And 41 percent of those younger than 30 said student loan refinancing was an important benefit an employer could provide.

The survey from the investment firm also found that 38 percent of respondents with student loan debt said that they're most concerned about their ability to pay day-to-day living expenses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

-- Paul Fain


Democratic Senators Call for No Stimulus Aid for For-Profits

April 21, 10 a.m. Several prominent Senate Democrats said any further stimulus funding for higher education should only go to public, private and nonprofit institutions -- and not to for-profits.

"The massive growth, widespread fraud and poor outcomes of the for-profit college industry during and after the 2008 financial crisis contributed to the historic student debt crisis we face today," Senators Dick Durbin and Elizabeth Warren, along with 15 other senators, wrote to Senate leaders. "We do not wish to see history repeat itself," the senators wrote.

Durbin and Warren were among four Senate Democrats who asked U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos two weeks ago to use her authority to not give to for-profits any of the $14 billion Congress set aside for higher education in the last stimulus package.

-- Kery Murakami


Interstate Compact Starts Recovery Task Force

April 21, 9:30 a.m. The Southern Regional Education Board is launching the Higher Education Recovery Task Force to help states address the challenges that institutions and students are facing due to COVID-19.

The regional interstate compact serves 16 states in the south. Glen D. Johnson, chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, and Stephen L. Pruitt, SREB's president, will chair the task force, according to a news release. The group will also coordinate with SREB's K-12 Education Recovery Task Force.

The first meeting will be held by next week. The task force plans to discuss funding and costs, safety and health, distance learning and technology, and student support during this pandemic.

Each state will be able to appoint up to three representatives from two- and four-year college sectors for the task force.

"Once again, states across our region are coming together to learn from each other, strengthening our expertise as we each face important decisions ahead," Johnson said in the release.

-- Madeline St. Amour


Tuition and Fee Refund Demands Grow

April 20, 5:05 p.m. Calls from college students across the country for tuition and fee refunds are becoming more widespread, as lawyers representing students filed a lawsuit against Michigan State University on Monday.

Michigan State students are seeking increased room and board and tuition refunds "reflecting the difference in value of live instruction versus online learning," according to a news release from Milberg Phillips Grossman LLP, the New York-based law firm representing Michigan State and Purdue University students, who filed a similar lawsuit on April 9. The law firm is part of a Coronavirus Litigation Task Force, made up of three firms that plan to "investigate suspected wrongdoing related to the COVID-19," said a release from one of the firms, Sanders Phillips Grossman LLC.

Students also are continuing to independently lead letter-writing and petition campaigns to push their institutions to issue tuition and fee refunds. A student-run project at the Savannah College of Art and Design, or SCAD, asks the college to issue "fee reimbursement equivalent to the compromised nature of our undergraduate and graduate degrees," said an April 11 letter from leaders of the movement, called A Choice SCAD. The students argue that some on-campus resources that spring quarter fees support are not being used and those fees should therefore be returned to them, according to the letter.

"We are deeply troubled by the numerous ways this pandemic will affect the student body, both personally and professionally," the letter said. "It has tangible and invisible consequences for our physical and mental health, financial security, professional careers, housing accommodations, immigration status and much more. In addition, it has severely curtailed the quality of the unrivaled on-ground arts education that SCAD professes to offer."

-- Greta Anderson


U of Michigan Prepares for Mammoth Revenue Losses

April 20, 2:10 p.m. The University of Michigan could face revenue losses as large as $1 billion.

Mark S. Schlissel, the university's president, detailed the difficulties the institution is facing and the plans to assuage them in a letter to the community.

His best estimate for revenue losses is between $400 million and $1 billion through the end of 2020.

"All of the university's major sources of revenue are in question, and we have incurred large, sudden and unexpected costs due to the pandemic," he wrote.

Expenses include those incurred by the university's hospitals and clinics that are responding to the pandemic, and the loss of revenue from nonurgent medical procedures and outpatient clinics.

In response, the university plans to eliminate all nonessential expenditures, like travel and use of consultants, until further notice. It is instituting a hiring freeze and a salary freeze. Schlissel is cutting his monthly salary by 10 percent from May 1 through 2020, and several chancellors are doing the same. Other leaders will see salary reductions of 5 percent.

The university is also starting two voluntary programs for unpaid furloughs and temporarily reducing hours. Employees can apply for these programs and will continue to receive benefits.

Construction has already been paused on campus, as ordered by Michigan's governor. Schlissel wrote the university will re-evaluate its finances when deciding to resume projects, as well as how long to delay upcoming projects.

Schlissel also addressed the university's endowment. Many have questioned why higher education can't use endowments to weather this storm. Much of the University of Michigan's endowment can only be used for specific purposes, according to Schlissel, like scholarships and medical research.

"We are being challenged at levels never before seen, but I remain confident in our ability to respond with creativity and a shared commitment to our university's mission and to one another," he wrote. "Please stay healthy and safe, and thank you for making this university so great."

-- Madeline St. Amour


Colleges and Universities Recommend Congress Wait to Consider Student Loan Cancellation

April 20, 1:30 p.m. Several associations representing the nation's colleges and universities urged congressional leaders Monday to wait to consider student debt cancellation until after current discussions over additional stimulus proposals are resolved.

The associations, including the American Council on Education, wrote Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, saying that they agree there is a need to provide relief for borrowers immediately. But the groups wrote, "We believe that should more appropriately occur as part of reauthorization of the Higher Education Act." Reauthorization is seen as uncertain to be passed by Congress this year.

Still, the groups acknowledged, "the pandemic will greatly hamper the ability of many of these individuals to repay their loans, and this in turn will strain the economy unless Congress moves quickly to provide needed, targeted relief to student loan borrowers."

Instead of forgiving loans -- as prominent Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have proposed -- the groups said Congress should focus on immediate relief to borrowers in stimulus packages​. Such relief could include extending the last stimulus package's suspension of student loan collection activities and its provision allowing zero-interest deferred loan repayments. While the CARES Act excuses repayments for 60 days, the groups said borrowers should not have to make payments until the economy recovers.

The groups also proposed extending the grace period for making loan repayments after graduation.

"Students who complete their programs in the near future will be graduating into the worst employment market since the federal student loan programs were created. Extending the post-graduation grace period for one year for students leaving school will help them gain their post-graduation financial footing," the groups wrote.

In addition, the letter recommended borrowers taking out federal student loans only be charged a 1.5 percent interest rate, instead of the current rates of between 4.53 percent for Stafford loans and 7.08 percent for Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS loans.

-- Kery Murakami


New Chat Bot for FAFSA Assistance

April 20, 11:50 a.m. The College Board and Benefits Data Trust have created a chat bot to help students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

The chat bot, named Penny, was created in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced schools and FAFSA workshops to close, according to a news release.

Penny was piloted with a group of 380 students, most of whom were low-income or students of color, from November to February. Those who engaged with Penny asked two questions on average, and the chat bot was able to answer them for 91 percent of the students so far. Over the next month, the chat bot will become available to all students.

Penny can also help students request that colleges give their financial aid applications special consideration. ​

-- Madeline St. Amour


Dip in Summer Enrollment for Michigan's Community Colleges

April 20, 11:15 a.m. Community colleges in Michigan already are seeing declines in enrollment for summer courses, potentially foreshadowing a disturbing trend for the sector.

The Detroit Free Press looked at Washtenaw Community College and found that, after the two-year college announced at the start of April that summer courses would be remote, registrations for the term were down 35.6 percent compared to 2019. By April 15, the difference had gotten slightly smaller -- about 26 percent behind registrations on that date in 2019 -- but it's still significant.

The enrollment losses equate to an estimated revenue loss of $2 million for the college.

Several other community colleges in the state are facing similar problems. Much of the enrollment loss stems from technical programs that require face-to-face learning, like culinary arts or welding.

-- Madeline St. Amour


University of Arizona Projects $250 Million Loss

April 19, 10:50 a.m. The University of Arizona announced pay cuts this week to defray an expected $250 million loss from the coronavirus pandemic, the Arizona Daily Star has reported. The university said it has already seen $66 million in losses.

The cuts, which go into effect May 11, will require anyone making over $150,001 to take at least a 17 percent pay cut. Those making less will be required to take unpaid work days resulting in a 5 percent salary reduction. The cuts will last at least until June 2021. The salary decreases are expected to save the university up to $95 million.

The university already has imposed a hiring freeze, delayed merit increases, halted three building projects, withheld $22 million investment in the strategic plan and required executive leadership to take a 20 percent pay cut. Those efforts are expected to save $50 to 60 million.

The losses are the result of expected decreases in tuition, parking and residence hall payments. Tuition makes up 30 percent of the university's revenue. Out-of-state tuition is expected to fall 25 percent.

-- Lilah Burke


Valparaiso University Furloughs 200 Employees

April 19, 10:30 a.m. Valparaiso University in Indiana has announced that it will furlough 200 full-time and part-time employees, The Times of Northwest Indiana reported. Employees not furloughed and earning at least $48,000 will see a temporary salary reduction starting at 2 percent. Mark Heckler, Valparaiso's president, has voluntarily taken a 30 percent pay cut.

The furloughs will begin April 16 and are expected to last until July 31.

-- Lilah Burke


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