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The Dispatch
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A newsletter about role of higher education in society — plus Open Campus developments.

Our newest local newsroom partner

Sara and I started Open Campus three years ago with the goal of expanding and improving coverage of all facets of higher education. We talk often about the wide range of college experiences that Americans have — community colleges, regional publics, online graduate degrees — and hope our national and local reporters’ work can hold all parts of the system accountable for their diverse missions.

A well-known secret, though, is that Sara and I had the same college experience. Like, the exact same. 

We both went to Northwestern University in the 1990s, where we both studied journalism. We both even got graduate degrees there. Surprisingly, we never crossed paths, but we did develop a shared love for Chicago

So that adds to our excitement as we announce the newest partner in our local network. With support from the Joyce Foundation, we’re adding a dedicated reporter on the higher-ed beat to WBEZ Chicago, the city’s public radio outlet.

Here’s the link to the job ad:

We are looking for a reporter who can produce enterprise work, high-quality daily stories and investigations for web and audio both independently and as part of a team of four reporters and a senior editor. Our aim is to be the dominant source for education news in the Chicago area. 

With changes to the Chicago journalism landscape, there’s been little dedicated reporting on higher ed in recent years in the nation’s third largest city. We’re excited to dig into the issues there. Chicagoland is home to major research universities, countless smaller colleges, and a large community college system. Plus, across Illinois, colleges have weathered uncertain state funding for years as well as the declining enrollments that plague many Midwestern institutions.

That’s to say, the stories are plentiful. And because I can’t resist sharing a graphic, I’ll leave you with some data points from a team called The To&Through Project at the University of Chicago

They’ve created a wealth of data and research about educational attainment for Chicago Public Schools students. As someone who pokes around looking for this sort of information in countless states and cities, I can say their tools are excellent. 

In recent years, they’ve devised something they call the Post-Secondary Attainment index to combine both current high school and college attainment metrics. The data isn’t about a single cohort of students but you can think about this way: If rates were not to change from current ones, of 100 current CPS ninth-graders, then … 

  • 83 would end up graduating from high school.
  • 51 would immediately enroll in either a four- or two-year college.
  • And six years after high school, a total of 27 would have completed some type of credential.

But those ninth graders had much different aspirations: 75 percent of them had said they hoped to get at least an associates degree. 

What happened along the way? Here’s a diagram from To&Through that shows the pathways for the Black high school graduates who immediately enrolled in a four-year college.

OK, I know that diagram is impossible to read inside this email. (Go here to explore the full tool.) But even in this grainy version you can see the varied pathways that so many students end up taking — dropping out, transferring to a community college, transferring back. They don’t look like the paths Sara and I took back in Evanston nearly 30 years ago. That’s part of the point. Let us know what higher-ed stories you think we should be focused on in Chicago and Illinois in the months to come. 

— Scott Smallwood

+ Apply here to work with us and WBEZ as a higher education reporter in Chicago.

++ Read our recent story co-published with WBEZ about the role of education in clemency decisions.

We’re hiring!

Come be our first managing editor. We’re looking for someone to bolster our growing network of local reporters and amplify our coverage of higher ed in cities across the country.

Send us your resume by Aug. 19. Here’s where to apply. Feel free to reach out to Sara with questions.

Who decides a neighborhood’s future?

For decades, Emma Folts writes, the University of Pittsburgh’s expanding presence in the city’s Oakland neighborhood has been a source of growth and growing pains. And now it’s at a critical juncture.

The city is moving forward with a 10-year development plan for Oakland, which aligns with Pitt’s vision under its campus master plan, after about 100 community meetings over more than two years.

Should the Oakland of tomorrow be a place where children play in sunny yards, Emma asks, or where towers cater to students and “eds and meds” workers?

Emma, who works for our partner PublicSource, spent time knocking on doors and talking with residents about their the stresses and opportunities that come with living in the shadow of Pitt — and about their visions for the future of the community. Among them:

  • The young family whose kids toss a football around with the college students but who also are bracing for the challenges of more development.
  • The long-time residents grappling with change. “It’s hard for many members of the community to know what the end game is for the university’s expansion,” one said.
  • The neighborhood advocate worried about the lack of affordable housing.
  • The environmentalist in favor of dense development.
  • The students who are residents, too.

Read the full story here.

Elsewhere on Open Campus

In Tampa: Housing costs are pricing out new hires at USF St. Petersburg. And losing even one or two can leave a big impact, Divya Kumar reports, resulting in the delayed start of programs or development of lab spaces.

In Cleveland: The competition for students isn’t just other institutions, Cuyahoga Community College’s new president tells Amy Morona. It’s also the gig economy, and the college has to do more to pitch its value to workers there.

In Mississippi: “It’s not just that somebody has died, like an entire community is scared,” a friend of Jimmie “Jay” Lee told Molly Minta. Lee, a recent University of Mississippi graduate who was killed last month, was well-known on campus for his involvement in the LGBTQ community.

In Colorado: Jason Gonzales spotlights a Colorado State professor who is working to help teachers incorporate LGBTQ history that’s close to home.

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