Our Pittsburgh reporter sheds lights on an opaque program. A conversation in Austin probes what more colleges need to do when they offer education in prisons. And our rural reporter examines the impact of a college closure.

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

Accountability reporting is core to our work at Open Campus. But that doesn’t mean we are always cranking out flashy, investigative stories. Sometimes accountability reporting is a simple check-in: What promises have universities made? What programs have they been quiet about lately? (And, this is why our model is so powerful — without full-time reporters on the higher ed beat across the country, nobody would be asking these questions.)

Emma Folts, our reporter at PublicSource in Pittsburgh, set out to check in on a year-old University of Pittsburgh program that paired mental health professionals with college police. The goal of the program is to help students in crisis, and Emma asked Pitt how it’s going. They couldn’t provide any concrete data to back up its progress, even after Emma repeatedly followed up with them.

“This is a fantastic program, and most people at Pitt can’t wait to tell this story,” a spokesperson said instead.

Despite a lack of detail from Pitt, Emma’s story does what all good accountability reporting should do. It digs into the promises of the program, the concerns students have about its implementation, and the open questions that remain today.

++ For those in Pittsburgh, Emma is moderating a panel March 28 on Carnegie Mellon University’s tax-exempt status. Read her coverage of the topic, too.

Colleen Murphy

Notes from the road

Charlotte West, our reporter on higher ed in prisons, was in Austin this week, where she moderated a panel, “From Prison to Potential — The Role of Higher Ed,” at SXSW EDU.

It’s a big year for prison education as incarcerated students become eligible for Pell Grants for the first time in nearly 30 years. During the panel, Terrell Blount talked about what more colleges need to be doing to help students as more places prepare to offer programs in prisons.

Blount, now the executive director of the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network, spent six years in a New Jersey prison where he enrolled in an associate’s degree program in applied science.

The experience, he said, left him without some of the basic skills, like how to structure an essay, he needed to succeed once he left prison. And only three of his 20-some college credits from inside transferred when he enrolled at Rutgers University after he went home.

Blount also urged colleges to expose people inside to a wider array of job opportunities, beyond some of typical industries like truck driving and welding. “By us offering the opportunity to earn a college degree,” he said, “you open up a much bigger conversation on what you can do when you finish this degree.”

++ Follow Charlotte’s coverage by signing up for her newsletter, College Inside.

The impact of a college closure

New River Gorge Bridge overlooks the New River, flowing into the Kanawha River and nearby Montgomery, WV. (Photo/Nick Fouriezos)

What happens when a rural college town loses its college?

“The consequences for communities when these institutions close are far more than just educational,” Nick Fouriezos told The Yonder Report in a podcast episode this week. For example, the economy can suffer as a result, he says.

Listen to the episode here. And, read Nick’s coverage on Montgomery, W. Va., a former college town.

+ One more from Nick: In this week’s edition of Mile Markers, he takes you to Georgia’s Gordon State College, which is working hard to bolster its connections to its community.

Elsewhere on Open Campus

From Chicago: We’re mere months away from the Supreme Court ruling on race-conscious admissions. Anthony Chen, an associate professor of sociology at Northwestern University who is working on a book about the history of affirmative action in higher education, shares how we got to this moment.

From Florida: “I want you to know that you have been seen, and your voices will be heard,” a trustee at the University of South Florida told students who rallied at a board of trustees meeting earlier this week. The students are calling on school officials to fight state proposals that would gut diversity programs. (A few days earlier, a a protest against those measures resulted in a physical altercation with USF campus police.)

From The Job: 75,442. That’s the tally of federal job-training programs. No wonder people find it difficult to navigate, writes Paul Fain.

From Mississippi: The new temporary acting president of Jackson State University says she’ll stay in the gig as long as she’s needed. (Thomas Hudson, her predecessor, was mysteriously placed on administrative leave earlier this month.)

Keep in touch

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