Help us fill critical gaps

We’re hiring for five full-time jobs this summer: three national reporters, a revenue director, and an audience engagement manager. Apply here.


Come work with us!

There are gaps in higher education coverage everywhere.

In America’s 50 largest cities, only about a third have a reporter who wakes up every morning thinking about how to cover the role of colleges in their communities.

That, of course, is what we’re working to change with Open Campus. Already, we’ve added higher ed coverage to some cities and states that haven’t had a dedicated reporter on the beat for several decades.

But there are gaps not just in where higher ed is being covered but also in what is being covered. So we’re excited to announce that this summer we’ll be hiring three national reporters to cover critical topics that are under-scrutinized: higher education and racial equity, the role of college in rural America, and the future of postsecondary education in prisons. 

+ Here’s where you can apply for these reporting jobs — plus two other full-time positions we’re also looking to fill: a director of revenue and an audience engagement manager. 

Stubborn Gaps and Marginalized Voices
Naomi Harris shed light on what it’s been like this past year to really live in the shoes of someone like Morgan Ottley (above), president of the Black Action Society at the University of Pittsburgh. Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource.

The role of race in higher education is often a part of many beats but is rarely at the center of any. And race is a big factor in nearly every aspect of higher ed — including who gets to go to college and where, who leaves with debt and how much, and how well colleges are serving the neighborhoods right around them.

Report after report documents stubborn racial gaps in education and wealth — and in where people go to college and which campuses they even believe are for them. One report came right out and summed it up this way: “Segregation Forever?”

Our new reporter will probe how colleges are (and are not) helping. And they will elevate the voices of Black, Hispanic, and other nonwhite students who are often marginalized in these conversations. They’ll build on stories like these from our local reporters:

Regional Roles and Political Polarization
Jason Gonzales examined how a community college is trying to help an entire region of rural Colorado reinvent its economy. Photo by Matt Stensland for Chalkbeat.

Our national reporter on rural America will examine both how colleges are serving students from rural areas and how well higher ed is playing its economic, civic, and workforce development roles in those regions.

They’ll dive into stories like this one by Jason Gonzales, our Colorado reporter with Chalkbeat, which explored higher education’s role in reinventing an entire economy:

Plus, given America’s political polarization, with urban and rural communities increasingly on opposite sides, our rural reporter will examine how colleges are exacerbating or alleviating those gaps.

  • Just after the election, we wrote about how the college degree has become a major fault line in American politics and how geography fits in: “A Tale of Two Jefferson Counties
A Flood of Dollars and Questions of Choice

No other area of higher ed right now is facing more change and less journalistic attention than postsecondary education in American prisons. The pandemic disrupted the sector, shutting down programs and leading officials to rethink their approach to technology. And the restoration of Pell Grants to incarcerated students will soon flood the system with millions of additional dollars.

Our national reporter will bring scrutiny to this sector and explore what’s at stake for students, both inside prisons and when they get out. Who’s paying attention to quality? What’s being done to give students more choice? Who’s exploiting the system?

  • Earlier this year, Amy Morona examined the record of Ashland University, a private Christian university nestled in the middle of Ohio that has become a giant in America’s prison education landscape. A majority of the university’s students now come from prisons, and Ashland faces a lot of questions about the quality of its program as it brings in millions of dollars in Pell Grants.
We Want to Hear from You

Interested in any of these topics? An expert in one of them? Have great story ideas or suggestions for these new reporters? Fill out this short form to stay in touch.

And if you want to talk more about the types of stories or have ideas for how we expand Open Campus, you can come by our weekly office hours. Here’s a link to schedule a time.

Here’s where to apply for our jobs:

A Glimpse at That First Covid Semester

Every four years the U.S. Department of Education conducts a major study of financial aid by surveying tens of thousands of families and students about how they pay for college. Last spring, the latest survey, called the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, had just gotten underway when the pandemic threw life into chaos.

Researchers quickly added questions to the survey to capture how covid was disrupting education. The first look at those results — from surveys completed at the height of the pandemic in spring 2020 — was released this week.

Little surprise: nearly 9 in 10 undergraduates saw some disruption or change to their enrollment last spring. Other highlights:

  • About 27 percent of students received some tuition refund.
  • Roughly 15 percent got some emergency financial assistance from their college.
  • Single parents were much more likely to withdraw from college — almost 8 percent.
  • The rate of withdrawing or taking a leave of absence was twice as high for Black students as for white or Asian ones.
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Elsewhere on Open Campus

In El Paso: “LGBTQ+ student groups protested when Heather Wilson was named UTEP’s president. Here’s how they feel now.” Three years in to her appointment, some groups have given Wilson a chance at redemption. Others have not.

In Mississippi: “They wrote campaign checks to Tate Reeves. Then he appointed them to powerful ed boards.” The insider appointments are indicative of a system of favoritism that excludes historically Black colleges and universities.

Also in Mississippi: “Hundreds of colleges are requiring COVID vaccines this fall. Can Mississippi?” Mississippi is still the least vaccinated state in the country, yet the universities are still trying to return to normal. Nearly 250 people have signed a letter urging the state board to require vaccines for students.

In latitude(s): “A false choice in California?” The University of California will cap international enrollments to admit more in-state students. But is it necessarily true that if someone gets in, someone else has to be left out?

In Northeast Ohio: “Baldwin Wallace seeks to set itself apart as its region’s institution for partnerships” As undergraduate enrollment falls, college leaders in crowded fields like Northeast Ohio are fighting to stand out.

In First Gen: “The onscreen representation ‘In the Heights’ actually got right” For all its faults in tackling colorism and Afro-Latinx representation in film, there was one minority experience it handled well: the story of first-generation college students.

Keep in Touch

Apply for our jobs! Follow the links here. And share them with your friends and colleagues.

Got a story tip or a question? Please send it along.

Run a newsroom and want to improve your coverage of higher ed? Let’s talk.

Please share. Forward this newsletter to colleagues, family, and friends who might be interested. They can sign up for their own copy here.

Our Local Network Locations: California | Cleveland | Colorado | El Paso | Mississippi | Pittsburgh | Santa Cruz

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A system of favoritism

Year after year of insider appointments to Mississippi’s higher-ed governing board, Molly Minta writes, “not only raise ethical questions but are indicative of a system of favoritism that excludes the historically Black colleges and universities.”