When trustees hear from community members, are they really paying attention? And, what stands out to them? Their jotted-down notes tell the tale. Plus, continued coverage of Pell Grants returning to prisons.

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

A look behind the curtain

“Listen to the Alums.” “don’t hire friends.” “focus on RETENTION as well enrollment.”

Those are a few (verbatim) snippets from the handwritten notes of members of Mississippi’s higher ed governing board (known as the Institutions of Higher Learning). The group held a listening session in its search for Jackson State University’s next president.

Jackson State is one of several Mississippi universities that have seen a president depart over the last year. The trustees’ notes give a look into what is otherwise a pretty obscure process: IHL doesn’t typically offer details following the departure of a president.

The notes point to some common themes. Nearly all trustees jotted down the same request from community members: a more thorough background check on the university’s next president. (You can read trustee’s notes here.)

A snippet of the trustees’ handwritten notes.

Molly Minta, our reporter at Mississippi Today, obtained the notes through a public records request. The trustees rarely grant interviews or share what they’re thinking, especially when Molly wants to know more about “personnel matters,” which are confidential in Mississippi, she told me.

Mississippians really care about their universities, and want them to succeed — and they see IHL as playing a role in that, she says.

“The notes underscored to me that trustees are aware of the criticism that many people in the Jackson State University community have for them, which is another way of saying they know how JSU community members think IHL has failed the university,” Molly says. “Now that it’s clear to me the trustees are listening to the community, the question becomes what, if anything, are they going to do about it?”

Colleen Murphy

‘I still did something positive’

Photos via the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and messages via Robert Anthony and Matthew Slaughter, two people incarcerated in Pennsylvania state prisons. (Photo illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

More than 700,000 incarcerated people are expected to become eligible for federal financial aid next month — including about 40,000 people in Pennsylvania’s state prisons.

The return of the Pell Grant — which was revoked for incarcerated students in the 1994 crime bill — is vital to help those inside access education.

But as Emma Folts, our reporter at Public Source, writes, being eligible for the funds doesn’t mean that they will be easy to access. There are waitlists for the funds. Limited program options. And unreliable technology.

Robert Anthony — serving a life sentence at State Correctional Institution Rockview, in Centre County — is on the waitlist for the Pell funding.

Getting a bachelor’s degree would allow Anthony to show his family “I still did something positive. I didn’t stay down when I was knocked down. I got over it, and I achieved something great.”

“Right now? I feel great,” he told Emma. “I feel motivated.”

— Lynn Liu

  • To read more about the return of Pell to prisons, read Charlotte West’s story, co-published with USA Today.

Elsewhere on Open Campus

Austin Zambrano, an engineering student at UTEP, guides a work group of his peers who will teach an upcoming ExciTES Summer Session. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

From El Paso: A pre-college summer program at the University of Texas at El Paso has spurred hundreds of students to consider STEM majors. “Initially, I thought engineering was for geniuses, but then I thought I could be an engineer like Tony Stark and the Ghostbusters if you put in the effort,” says Austin Zambrano, now a junior studying engineering.

From California: Community colleges would essentially have to return $800 million to the state under a proposal in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May budget revision. That would leave lots of maintenance projects hanging in the balance.

From the HBCU Student Journalism Network: Recent HBCU graduates share lessons they learned in college. “I will always make sure to remind myself that there is absolutely no limit to greatness,” one student said. (We co-published this story with Capital B.)

From Tampa Bay: The University of South Florida achieved a major milestone: acceptance into the Association of American Universities. Researchers at universities in the 71-member organization perform the bulk of federally funded research.

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