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Safe is a Relative Term

When Campus Is the Safest Place To Be

What is safe? That’s what everyone is trying to assess right now as they make, and re-make, decisions about the fall.

One by one, more and more campuses are starting to conclude that safe means keeping students home.

  • The chancellor at the University of California at Berkeley said this week that she started to view bringing students back as a “mass migration event” that could risk seeding entirely new outbreaks.
  • In announcing a month-long delay in starting in-person classes, Clemson University’s president said that predictive models from health experts showed that if they opened now they could see several thousand cases of covid-19 on the campus.

For Roslyn Clark Artis, the president of Benedict College, safe means bringing students back.

There’s an “inherent risk” to her students, she says, in not opening the campus. That’s because many students at Benedict — a private, historically black college in Columbia, S.C. — hail from communities at risk, Artis said this week in a panel at the Education Writers Association National Seminar.

They are children of parents who are front-line workers in high-risk environments. They live in six-member families who share 1,000 square feet of space at home.

They are from low-wealth, first-generation backgrounds (nearly 82 percent are eligible for Pell Grants and three-quarters are the first in their family to attend college). Twelve percent have no access to broadband at their homes.

Benedict can help limit their exposure to covid, can help protect their health and safety, and it can protect their access to education and economic opportunity, she said.

The question of safety loomed large for Artis this week. On Monday, she said, a Benedict student, a rising senior, a football player, was killed, gunned down near his home. If the football team had been in training, as it normally would be around this time, he would have been on campus. He would be alive.

“I need my kids home,” Artis said, “and home is this campus.”

Artis knows, of course, that opening campus is risky, too. She’s taking precautions. She’s delivering stark messages to students: It’s on you to protect the health of your fellow students and of older faculty and staff in higher risk categories. She will kick students off campus if they can’t behave. She will close campus if cases start to rise and if the college starts to run short of quarantine beds.

“Our students really want to be here and need to be here,” she says. “It is a calculated risk, it is a risk just the same, but it’s one we feel obligated to take.”

+ For more, read this essay Artis wrote about reopening HBCU campuses, published by HBCU Digest.

— Sara Hebel

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Out-of-State, Quarantine Edition

Photo by John-Mark Smith from Pexels

We talk a lot here about how where you live in America matters in higher education. Usually, though, we’re talking about state appropriations or merit-aid policies or the quality of regional public universities. This summer, it’s about whether you’re allowed to even travel freely.

This week New York State expanded its list of travel-advisory states, now requiring visitors from 31 states to quarantine for 14 days once they arrive. Colleges are scrambling to come up with plans for many of their out-of-state students.

  • Ithaca College announced that all students from those states would not be allowed back for in-person instruction until their state was off the list.
  • The Rochester Institute of Technology won’t let students complete their quarantine on campus and instead outlined options for studentsfrom those states, including working with local hotels.
  • Several institutions, including Syracuse University, said they’re talking to state officials about devising alternatives to the 14-day self-quarantine for college students.

As we often emphasize, most students go to college close to home, but for many New York institutions, especially some private colleges, a sizable number of students come from those 31 states.

The U.S. Department of Education tracks what state first-time, full-time freshman come from for every college. It doesn’t cover every student but the data offers a good glimpse at student migration. Our quick analysis found roughly 10 percent of the total students at New York colleges come from states on the travel-advisory list. And about 40 percent of the out-of-state students are from states on the list (the majority of out-of-state students come from nearby states like New Jersey and Connecticut that aren’t on the list).

For some, though, the numbers are much higher:

  • At Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence College about 40 percent of the freshmen come from travel-advisory states.
  • NYU and Cornell University each have about a third of their students coming from those states.

I’ve also got a personal stake in all this, as a resident of Maryland — newly added to the travel advisory list — with a daughter headed back to New York for her sophomore year. Her new, but constantly shifting, plan is to travel north early to quarantine solo in her off-campus apartment. The text I got yesterday got right to the point: “So that means I can’t cut the grass.”

— Scott Smallwood

Segregation Forever?

That’s the provocative title of a new report from The Education Trust that looks at how the enrollment of Black and Latino students at America’s 101 most selective public colleges has changed so far this century.

As plenty of reports have pointed out — including one we wrote about a few weeks ago from the Urban Institute — Black students are underrepresented at selective colleges pretty much any way you look at it.

This latest Education Trust report makes the point that it’s even gotten worse over the last 20 years.

  • Nearly six in 10 selective public colleges saw decreases in the percentage of Black students on their campuses since 2000.
  • And don’t feel too optimistic about the ones that did see increases. Several of them were places like the University of Idaho or the University of Maine, in states with tiny Black populations.
  • In contrast, states with larger Black populations saw the most underrepresentation. Nearly every public institution in the 14 Southern states — where half of Black Americans live — received a failing grade in the report.

Take the University of Alabama, where Gov. George Wallace tried to block Black students from registering in 1963. The numbers are getting worse:

University of Alabama

The report ends with 10 recommendations for policy makers and campus leaders — things like increase access to guidance counselors and reduce the role of standardized tests. But it’s also blunt about what’s missing: a will to change. “With larger endowments and more funding, these institutions have the resources to do so, but their leaders must make a conscious commitment to increasing access.”

Colleges’ Social Responsibility

What role should colleges be playing in times of crises? How should they be helping us confront the urgent racial, public-health, and social-equity challenges we face?

Tune in next Tuesday, July 28, to a discussion Sara is moderating with leaders from Georgia State University, the University of the South, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The event, hosted by Cooper Robertson, starts at 6:30 p.m. Eastern timeYou can register for free here.

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