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Cal State University Announces Virtual Fall Semester, Provoking Debate About Reopening Schools

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  • California State University will be continuing classes online during the fall semester. 
  • Cal State is the biggest four-year public university system in the U.S., and it is now the first large American university to tell students it will not be holding in-person classes this fall.
  • The move has prompted many to wonder if other colleges, the vast majority of which have said they will re-open in the fall, will follow suit.
  • Many schools are struggling financially with the closures and will suffer significantly if they remain shut down. At the same time, students are not sure if they will commit or return to schools that are unsafe or online. 

Cal State Announcement

California State University, the largest four-year public university system in the country, announced Tuesday that it will be keeping classes online during the fall semester at all of its 23 schools.

“This planning approach is necessary because a course that might begin in a face-to-face modality would likely have to be switched to a virtual format during the term if a serious second wave of the pandemic occurs, as forecast,” Cal State Chancellor Timothy White said in a statement.

“This virtual planning approach preserves as many options for as many students as possible.”

Notably, White did say there would be possible exceptions for clinical nursing classes, some science labs, and other essential programs to be held in person, but noted that will only happen when “rigorous health and safety requirements are in place.”

The move marks a significant departure from the current plans universities all over the country have laid out for the upcoming fall semester.

The Cal State system, which is home to more than half a million students, is the first large U.S. university to tell students they will not be holding in-person classes this fall. 

According to reports, only a few schools have said that they will hold fall classes online, and most of them are small.

Several other colleges have proposed or said they will implement some kind of hybrid model, but the vast majority are currently planning for in-person classes this fall.

Risks and Considerations for Colleges

The noteworthy move from Cal State has prompted many to wonder if other universities will begin to take the same course of action.

While some experts say Cal State’s decision could have a significant impact on other colleges, there are a lot of other factors that go into that choice. Unfortunately, one of the biggest is money.

Even before the pandemic, many higher education institutions were already struggling financially. Since mid-March, when colleges were forced to shut down, the situation has gotten a lot worse as major sources of revenue have begun drying up.

Sporting events have been canceled, housing payments and some other tuition-related expenses have been repaid to students. Smaller sources like study abroad programs and campus bookstores have also disappeared.

Already, some schools have said they have lost hundreds of millions of dollars and that the $14 billion federal aid package in the stimulus bill is not nearly enough.

All of that is expected to get much worse if schools remain shuttered for the fall semester.

“Most colleges and universities are tuition dependent,” Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University wrote in a New York Times op-ed last month.

“Remaining closed in the fall means losing as much as half of our revenue. This loss, only a part of which might be recouped through online courses, would be catastrophic.”

“It’s not a question of whether institutions will be forced to permanently close, it’s how many,” she added.

To make matters more complicated, there are now major concerns that a growing number of students will sit out the fall semester, which would seriously hurt schools even more.

Last month, the American Council on Education, a higher education trade group, predicted that enrollment for the next academic year will drop by 15%, including 25% for international students.

Concerns for Students

With all the worry about health and safety and the uncertainty about campuses re-opening, tons of new students are not sure if they will go to school in the fall.

According to a survey conducted by the higher-education consulting firm the Art & Science Group, 35% of prospective college students said they are planning to take a gap year, and another 35% said they will enroll part-time.

The same also goes for students that would otherwise be returning. A poll by Top Hat found that more than a quarter of college students are unsure of whether they will return to their current college or university in the fall.

While a hard decision, taking time off from school makes sense for many students. So much is still up in the air, and some worry about committing to starting college online or committing to a school now that might decide to shut down later.

Virtual learning is also not for everyone. According to a report in the Harvard Crimson, after the prestigious university announced it would hold classes in the fall— either online or in-person— more than 700 students and parents signed a petition calling on the school to postpone its fall semester rather than have online classes.

There is also the matter of costs. Going to college is expensive, and a lot of people do not want to pay for a four-year university if part of that is online. Already, more than two dozen schools are facing lawsuits from students demanding tuition refunds for spring semesters.

To that point, many schools have not been at all transparent about how or if tuition costs will change. 

In both Cal State’s Tuesday announcement and the Board of Trustees meeting that followed, there was zero mention of tuition cuts. At one point, several trustees even urged the board not to increase tuition costs to help pay for the online fall semester.

On top of that, with the economy faltering, there may be students who were planning on going to college but now cannot afford it.

There are also health concerns to think about. While these schools rush to open up, it is important to consider how they are factoring in financial incentives versus the safety of students.

But the big question still remains: can students return safety in the fall?

Cal State’s announcement came the same day that Dr. Anthony Fauci testified at a Senate hearing on coronavirus, where he warned against reopening schools too soon.

“The idea of having treatments available, or a vaccine, to facilitate the reentry of students into the fall term would be something of a bit of a bridge too far,” he said.

“We don’t see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school this term. What they really want is to know if they are safe.” 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Los Angeles Times) (Axios)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban

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  • President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil. 
  • Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
  • The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions. 

Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.

That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.

Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”

It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead. 

Biden To Block Trump’s Order

Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.

“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.  In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect. 

It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.

Source: Whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions

Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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