Our reporters explore California’s foray into competency-based education and how Ben Sasse is trying to chart the future of the University of Florida. Plus, meet the newest member of Open Campus’s editorial team.

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

Skills get degrees

Adam Echelman, our community colleges reporter at CalMatters, headed to Wisconsin recently to explore the state’s shift to competency-based education. It’s a different approach to community college education — rather than having attendance and grades measure a student’s progress in a course, students must demonstrate mastery of a set of skills.

California’s community college system has piloted the model at eight colleges — and looked to Wisconsin to chart the new course. Nicolet College in Wisconsin now enrolls about a third of its roughly 1,900 students in competency-based education. Lakeshore Technical College is set to transition nearly every major by 2025.

The new model offers a chance for students to get degrees in a flexible format, and it’s especially geared toward adults with jobs and families, Adam writes. It’s a “grand experiment,” said Aisha Lowe, an executive vice chancellor at the California Community College Chancellor’s Office.

Adam reported the story with support from the Education Writers Association’s Reporting Fellowship program. Read his second story on California’s progress, too.

Our new race & equity editor

Kayleigh Skinner

We’re very excited to welcome Kayleigh Skinner as our new managing editor focused on race and equity. For the past several years, Kayleigh’s been the managing editor at Mississippi Today, one of our early partner newsrooms. That means we’ve had the joy of working with her on higher ed coverage since 2021.

Kayleigh’s spent much of her career covering education and politics, including at Mississippi Today, The Hechinger Report, and Chalkbeat Tennessee. Here, she’ll be working across our Local Network alongside Colleen, seeding, developing, and supporting stories that center on issues of race and equity. Kayleigh also will oversee our HBCU Student Journalism Network at a high level. Her first day will be November 1.

“I’ve always been drawn to education reporting because it’s a topic that is intertwined with so many other beats,” Kayleigh says. “An education story is not just about classrooms or schools — very often the root issue has tendrils in racial, social, or even economic inequity. Colleges and universities are like individual cities, each with their own system of governance, culture, and quirks that provide so many stories for local newsrooms to tell.”

— Sara Hebel

Work with us in Indiana

We’re adding a new partner to our Local Network: the Indiana Local News Initiative. The new nonprofit newsroom is being created to fill gaps in local news and information. And the inaugural team will include a full-time reporter dedicated to covering higher education.

The reporter will work closely with Open Campus to cover the impact of colleges and universities in Indianapolis and in the lives of its residents. It’s a chance to shape a beat that reflects community interests while producing daily scoops and developing enterprise stories. Learn more about the job and apply here.

On campus with Ben Sasse

Erica McCray, left, an associate dean in the College of Education, meets University of Florida President Ben Sasse moments before Sasse shared his vision for UF. (Photo: Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times)

Ben Sasse — in his first year as president at the University of Florida — is trying to make his mark in Gainesville. He had dozens of conversations in his first months in the job, he says.

Now, he told College of Education faculty recently, he’s “in a dialogical place of wanting to have conversations back and forth” about the school’s future.

He says UF needs a new direction — despite having spent several years among the nation’s top-ranked public universities. Some faculty members and departments aren’t pulling their weight. And, UF should have a stronger state and national presence, outside of focusing on Gainesville.

His ideas have left faculty dismayed, Divya Kumar writes for the Tampa Bay Times.

Meera Sitharam, a math professor and president of UF’s faculty union, heard largely negative comments about the presentations from faculty.

“Everybody was dismayed,” she said. “Every report is, ‘What is this guy trying to do?’”

++ And, join us next Wednesday for more discussion of the role political leaders are playing on college campuses in Florida and Texas. You’ll hear from Divya, as well as her colleague Ian Hodgson, and Kate McGee, our reporter at the Texas Tribune.

Elsewhere on Open Campus

Students at a workshop on writing college entrance essays learn about the admissions process from Fabian Cotten, an admissions counselor at the Pennsylvania State University. (Photo: Alexis Wary/PublicSource)

From Pittsburgh: Emma Folts at our partner PublicSource visited a college essay-writing workshop recently where students of color got a look at how colleges are navigating the admissions process following the Supreme Court’s ban on consideration of race in applications.

From Mississippi: A new financial aid proposal in Mississippi would seek to more than double the number of students who are eligible for state support. Mississippi Today’s Molly Minta put simply one of the core differences between this proposal and others that have faltered in the state in recent years: No students would lose access to state financial aid if it becomes law.

The plan would increase award amounts of the Mississippi Tuition Assistance Grant (MTAG) to keep up with the rising costs of college. It would eliminate requirements to maintain a 2.5 GPA and land at least a 15 on the ACT. Right now, the maximum MTAG award is up to $1,000 a year for juniors and seniors — that amount could be doubled or even tripled under the proposal.

From Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University has vowed to cover the costs of tuition, fees, books, personal expenses, and on-campus housing for select students from Cleveland Metropolitan and East Cleveland school districts.

From Tampa Bay: 2.7 million Floridians carry student loan debt. With payments set to restart, Ian Hodgson walks through some common pitfalls and questions for people trying to navigate repayment.

Keep in touch

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