As the start of the fall semester looms ever closer, institutions continue to make adjustments to the beginning of the academic year. On Wednesday, the University of Texas at San Antonio released an update to its fall plans in light of the COVID delta variant: the semester will begin August 23 with three weeks of online classes. Tulane University announced it has reached a 90% vaccination rate but has also planned for distanced classes and social isolation as cases arise. More institutions like the University of Minnesota and Oberlin College announced that vaccinations will be required once the vaccines meet final FDA approval which is expected early in the fall semester. Institutions’ responses to COVID will continue to dominate the headlines in the weeks to come as the fall term begins nationwide.
Pandemic Debt Forgiveness: Addressing Reenrollment & Institution’s Bottom Line
This week Higher Ed Dive examines a growing trend of institutions using COVID relief monies to forgive student debt. Historically Black Colleges and Universities as well as community colleges and regional public universities have initiated programs to pay off student debt. These institutions primarily serve low-income students and those underrepresented in higher education. In general, institutions are wiping away the balances students owe but do not clear money owed on private or federal loans. While these debt forgiveness programs are a benefit to students, they also serve institutions. Because it is rare that colleges collect the full amount owed to them, covering students’ debt means colleges are paid money they might otherwise not collect. In addition, debt-free students have a better chance of staying enrolled, which can improve key institutional metrics like graduation rates.
"For us it was, 'Get students graduated, out the door and in their careers, and help our students keep on track.’” ~ David Byrd, CFO Shaw University
Institutional Worry About Fake COVID Vaccine Cards Grow
As the delta variant sweeps across the United States, an increasing number of institutions are requiring students to show proof of vaccination to begin the fall semester. In turn, the ability to purchase fake vaccination cards is increasingly available for those who do not want to get vaccinated. Students can purchase laminated “vaccination cards” on Instagram with prices ranging from $25-$200. Over 675 institutions are requiring proof of COVID vaccination, and for many students that process is as simple as uploading an image of a vaccine card to their portal. University officials are concerned that students will misrepresent their vaccination status in an effort to enroll for the fall semester.
Concern About Native American Students & College Completion
The pandemic has highlighted the discrepancies in Native American student enrollment in colleges and universities. This week the Hechinger Report examines the learning challenges facing Native American students, including lack of access to electricity and internet and the need for mental health support. In 2018, 24% of Native Americans 18 to 24 were enrolled in college compared to 41% of the overall population and those numbers dropped significantly last academic year.
NC-SARA’s Enrollment Benefits
According to research released this week, institutions that participate in NC-SARA, the organization that works for reciprocity across states regarding postsecondary distance education, benefit in higher enrollment numbers. Every state but California participates in NC-SARA. While the organization has been criticized for its standards, because of the large number of institutions involved, its directives carry great weight. Future research efforts will focus on studying student outcomes at NC-SARA institutions.
Author: Meg Foster
August 13, 2021