It’s been a busy few weeks at Open Campus. We thought we’d catch you up on what we’ve been up to.

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

Our latest work on the return of Pell to prison

There’s a lot riding on the return of Pell eligibility for incarcerated students later this year. There have been limited options for incarcerated people to access higher education since a 1994 law made them ineligible for the federal grants. For many in prison, especially those serving life sentences, education is what gives them hope.

Still, opening the funds back up won’t be an easy transition. Charlotte West, our reporter covering prison higher ed, explored those barriers and more in an online discussion earlier this week. The event was sponsored by Jobs for the Future and The Michelson 20MM Foundation.

Photo: From left to right, Rahsaan Thomas, Charlotte West, Angel Sanchez, and a class from Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Colorado joined the event.
  • Read a recap from freelance journalist Ryan Moser, who began his journalism career in prison.
  • A key takeaway came from panelist Rahsaan “New York” Thomas, a formerly incarcerated podcaster who earned his associate degree at San Quentin State Prison: “We must get the administrations to buy into college inside if we want it to succeed.”
  • The event recording is available here (passcode: ==gu53?M).

What are we missing? Charlotte will be writing a lot more about this in the future — let her know what questions you have.

Introducing HBCU Spotlight

Some of you may have received a new newsletter from us last week. We’ve started the HBCU Spotlight to highlight our coverage of historically Black colleges and universities, a seriously undercovered sector. Naomi Harris, our reporter on race and equity, will helm the newsletter, and send it out monthly.

The growing role of nonprofit news

Maria Archangelo, our chief revenue officer, joined more than 500 news leaders, funders, and journalism innovators in Miami last week for the first in-person Knight Media Forum since February 2020. The topics at the Forum have increasingly centered on the role of nonprofit news organizations, such as Open Campus, and this year was no exception.

In one memorable session, attendees heard from the leaders of two of our partner newsrooms: Mississippi Today and Signal Cleveland. During the event, Knight Foundation President Alberto Imbarguen announced a $5 million investment to expand the Ohio newsroom to Akron. Signal leaders were able to raise another $5 million from local Akron funders.

The growth of local nonprofit news in Ohio is being replicated in communities across the country as local leaders witness for-profit newspapers diminish, and the resulting gaps in civic knowledge and participation. This is great news for these communities, and also for Open Campus as we work to expand our network of higher ed reporters. These deeply local, mission-driven newsrooms are often the perfect partners for Open Campus to work with to produce high-quality higher ed reporting.

Know of a partner we should be working with? Drop us a line.

On the road

We’d love to say hi if any of your paths will be crossing ours in the coming weeks. Please reach out and let us know!

  • Charlotte will be in Austin next week for SXSW EDU. Stop by a panel she’s moderating at 1 p.m. CT on March 6 about why access to higher ed in prisons matters.
  • Nick Fouriezos, our reporter covering college in rural America, will be driving through Colorado and Kansas next week to talk with people about the role of higher ed in their communities. If you live there or know people in those states you think Nick should know, send him a note.
  • Naomi Harris, our reporter covering race and equity, will be speaking on a panel about merit aid at the Annual Meeting of Law School Diversity Professionals, held April 26–28 at Chapman University, in Orange, Calif.
Enya Silva, second from left, Estevan Santana, Victoria Hinckley and Yuki Shao hold signs as University of South Florida students and faculty members joined a statewide walkout
Enya Silva, second from left, Estevan Santana, Victoria Hinckley and Yuki Shao hold signs as University of South Florida students and faculty members joined a statewide walkout to protest Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education policies on Thursday in Tampa. Many protesters were focused on DeSantis’ proposals to limit diversity efforts. [ IVY CEBALLO | AP ]

Elsewhere on Open Campus

From Tampa Bay: Ian Hodgson and Divya Kumar, our reporters at The Tampa Bay Times, have been closely following the political headwinds affecting Florida higher ed. First, they explain what DEI — the current target for Gov. Ron DeSantis — actually is, and what the job of a college diversity officer looks like. And, they reported on New College’s ban of diversity, equity and inclusion “bureaucracies.”

From Colorado: Colorado College withdrew from U.S. News & World Report annual “best college” rankings. The college’s vice president and dean told our Jason Gonzales that it’s the first step in the college’s commitment to anti-racism.

“This is not one of those things where you have a checkbox, you check them and then you’re done,” he said. “I think pulling out of U.S. News was a good step forward. But we’re not done.”

From Indiana: Statewide efforts are underway to increase the number of families who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA.

From Mississippi: Earlier this week, the Senate Appropriations committee scrapped provisions in a financial aid bill that would have expanded eligibility to adult and part-time students and voted to reduce awards under Mississippi’s only need-based aid grant.

From Pittsburgh: Not all graduate students receive stipends. Those that do though, often say they’re not livable. PublicSource spoke with 18 grad students in Pittsburgh about their stipends.

“Whether it’s switching from grocery shopping at Giant Eagle to the less-expensive Aldi or putting off dreams of homeownership, graduate students said the penny-pinching that’s required forces them to make daily sacrifices,” Emma Folts writes.

Keep in touch

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