Worth Knowing: October 2020

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Our goal is to wade through the endless reports and articles and highlight the information you need to make better decisions and heighten your competitive advantage.

The highest result of education is tolerance.

Helen Keller

Covid on campus

Thousands of new coronavirus cases continue to emerge on college campuses. An on-going New York Times survey of more than 1,700 American colleges and universities – including every four-year public institution and every private college that competes in the NCAA – has revealed more than 178,000 cases and at least 70 deaths1 since the pandemic began with more than 45 colleges reporting at least 1,000 cases over the course of the pandemic, and more than 300 colleges reporting more than 100 cases. 


1 Most of these deaths are employees and not students.

But it is possible to reduce the spread of covid on campuses.

A month since officials declared the early days of Vermont’s college reopenings a success, Covid-19 rates have remained low on the state’s campuses. Writer James Finn reports that Vermont colleges and universities had logged 51 cases of Covid-19 as of Oct. 6, according to a presentation at Governor. Phil Scott’s press conference on Tuesday — an increase of just 13 cases since September 11. Colleges have a positive test rate of just 0.05% from 96,000 tests administered since students began returning to campuses the last week of August. “The truth of the matter is, it’s safer to go to any college campus right now than anywhere in Vermont,” Richard Schneider, former Norwich University president and the head of Vermont’s college reopening team.  The goal in August was to make Vermont “the safest place in the country for students to return to college,” Schneider said. So far, he sees the state on its way to accomplishing that goal, thanks to a strong testing, student health pledges and quick contact tracing of infected people on campuses. Since reopening, the test positivity rate for colleges has remained even lower than Vermont’s rate as a whole. The state’s rate was 0.17% for September, according to Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, who’s tracking the state’s numbers.

Covid-19 dashboard

Skidmore College, with an impressive commitment to transparency, created a Covid-19 dashboard. The intro to the site states, “This dashboard shows aggregate data related to testing, infection rates and alert levels. Updates will be provided to students, faculty, staff and parents through email and the Skidmore Weekly Bulletin. The scenarios necessitating decreasing on-campus activities and operations or closing the campus will be communicated to all faculty, staff, students and parents by email and posted on this website.” 

Tuition refunds

Inside Higher Education reports that on Thursday a federal judge largely dismissed a lawsuit in which a group of Northeastern University students sought refunds of their tuition and other payments after the university, like most colleges in the country, closed its campuses and shifted to remote learning because of the coronavirus last spring. In his ruling, Judge Richard G. Stearns granted Northeastern’s motion to dismiss the class action on all of the students’ demands except for possible refund of the campus recreation fee, which he agreed could proceed. Stearns permitted the recreation fee claim to proceed because that fee gives students the option to attend home sporting events and to use fitness facilities that were unavailable to them when the campus closed. Many such cases were filed last spring and summer, and this appears to be the first one decided by a federal court.

Rethinking the academic year

With so many colleges and college students scrambling, perhaps it is time to rethink what this academic year might look like. The May 20 issue of The Atlantic has one such suggestion: The CornaCorps. The article opens, “…colleges and universities from coast to coast appear bent on muddling through—that is, either by reopening their campus despite the dangers or by patching together enough online offerings to put on a facsimile of a fall semester. The Atlantic notes that this is a dismal choice and suggests that students should be strongly urged to take a break from full-time study and devote the next year to national service, with online courses playing a cameo role. The article noted that The United States already has an infrastructure for supporting this: The AmeriCorps program offers stipends that can be applied toward tuition or directly to students. A massive emergency expansion of this program—into what might be called the CoronaCorps—would give the nation’s roughly 20 million public- and private-college students a meaningful year off campus and keep colleges and universities afloat without summoning large numbers of people back to tightly packed classrooms and dorms. CoronaCorps participants would still enroll in a course or two online, but their main focus should be community needs that no one is meeting.

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