Our latest reporting on Jackson State University. And, challenges remain for those hoping to pursue education in prison — even with the return of Pell Grants.

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

Zooming in on Jackson

Alivia Welch, one of our six HBCU reporting fellows, teamed up with Molly Minta, our higher ed reporter at Mississippi Today, to report on the continued water issues at Jackson State University. The university — in the oldest neighborhood of Jackson — has struggled with unreliable water for years.

It’s a particular problem for students, who told Alivia that they’ve struggled socially as a result. “I didn’t want to go to class or do fun events on campus because I couldn’t enjoy the basic necessities of a nice shower,” one student said.

There are glimmers of hope — several bills introduced in the state legislature would give the university funding for water-related projects. And, the governor and lieutenant governor support Jackson State’s quest for infrastructure funding.

Molly has been reporting on another source of turbulence at Jackson State: the resignation of its president, Thomas Hudson. Hudson had been on administrative leave for about two weeks before resigning Tuesday. Now, there are calls for the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees to explain the reason for his resignation.

“There’s a lot of speculation,” said Kathy Sykes, an alumnus and former state representative. “We shouldn’t have to go on speculation. We need the facts … so we can steer away from whatever it is that led to his ouster.”

+ For more reporting from our HBCU Student Journalism Network fellows and updates on the sector, sign up for our HBCU Spotlight newsletter!

Colleen Murphy

The challenges of getting a degree inside

Students graduate from Miami Dade College’s Institute for Educational Empowerment at Miami-Dade College. (Photo: Miami Dade College)

There are about 700,000 incarcerated people who could be eligible for federal aid once it’s available this July. But even still, getting a degree inside is far from easy. And lots of questions remain about the rollout of Pell Grants, Charlotte West, our reporter on prisons and higher ed, wrote this week. (Her reporting was co-published in USA Today.)

Charlotte’s piece explores the barriers for those inside, and for those trying to stand up college programs in prisons.

“Sometimes we think that something is better than nothing, and I just don’t know that that’s completely true,” said Stephanie Gaskill, a fellow at the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans. “Sometimes, especially if you’re asking people to spend their Pell dollars, you want to make sure that what you’re offering is actually a good experience for students.”

+ Read this first-person essay — from a tutor in the education department at the Minnesota Correctional Facility — about the barriers incarcerated students with disabilities face in getting the help they need. This piece was co-published with the Prison Journalism Project.

Elsewhere on Open Campus

From Cleveland: Cleveland State University tapped Carnegie, a marketing and strategy firm, to create profiles of nine competitor institutions and build email campaigns aimed at retaining accepted students over the summer. Those are just some of the elements of a $1.4 million rebranding contract, inked in 2021.

From Colorado: Gov. Jared Polis has backed two bipartisan proposals that would offer scholarships — and potentially free education — for those pursuing jobs in high-demand fields, like nursing and elementary education. And, a plan fell apart to create a special designation for Colorado universities that enroll high numbers of first-generation students.

From Tampa Bay: Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican legislators have zeroed in on gender-affirming care in Florida, but “it makes up a fraction of the caseloads in medical facilities run by Florida’s public universities,” Divya Kumar writes. One example: The University of South Florida has treated about 3 million patients over the last three years — just 698 cases include the medical code for gender dysphoria, though USF says that number “fails to capture the complexity of clinical care environments.”

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