Covid-19 Justice Higher Education

Are We Up Against the Wall Yet, Alma Mater?

By Greg Moses

Dissident Voice

If all values are system values, what do we make of trending lawsuits filed by students against their college campuses? Is it something like the demand of an air traveler who gets downgraded from first class to coach? The analogy seems to have merit. At least it reminds us of flying.

Campuses have about five categories of bills they send to students: tuition, student activity fees, parking, meal plans, and housing. Tuition goes to the academic budget. Student activity fees go into the infrastructure of extracurricular life, student organizations, counseling, libraries, health services, etc. In public debate, the term tuition often collapses all five categories into one.

On the more obvious side, meal plans and housing should be refunded if students are ordered to leave campus. But this means that funding for food service workers and housekeeping staff suddenly goes to zero. Bundled with any refund of this type–however obvious–will be a question of layoffs.

Parking also seems like an obvious refundable claim. But again, parking services are self funded through fees, and any refund is going to delete money that was budgeted for payroll.

Student activity fees get complicated, but the general theme is applicable. Wherever a campus is collecting fees, they are funding staff workers, and wherever fees are refunded, budgets for salaries begin to disappear.

Activity fees are complicated, because many services remain open to students, particularly counseling and emergency services, even if staff are working at a distance.

Which brings us to the difficult question of tuition itself, the money paid for academic, um, tuition. Students are correct to argue that online education is not the full experience of in-person education. For some fields of study, the difference can be a wide one. Drama, fine art, chemistry lab, etc., involve experiences that may be impossible to simulate online.

Students complain on the internet that moving their math classes online was especially difficult, which is an interesting thing to think about. Here we see the value of real-time personal attention to student questions and posture. The teacher can see everyone slumping down and make adjustments on the spot. Eye contact, unmediated by Zoom, is a wonderful teaching tool, and we can thank the pandemic for the crash course in the embodiment of it all. Teaching math is a deeply embodied transaction. Is that why my high school math teachers were coaches, too?

Literature was also mentioned by students on the internet. They missed the spontaneous discussion of the assigned materials, even if they were perfectly suitable for online delivery. Stanley Fish once asked, “is there a text in this class?” It all sounded so postmodern at the time, but here comes the pandemic, and we more plainly see how the text may be a kind of occasion for higher education, but never the education itself. There is a good reason why we continued to hold classes for several centuries, long after the printing press made it possible for everyone to read the books on their own.

As students were abruptly shifted from classroom to laptop, the feel of shock was widely confirmed. It was like being downgraded from first class.

However, we should not let the structure of our rant obscure the value of online education for those who need it most. Think of the soldier overseas, the working mother of three, or the 19-year-old who already has classes on campus plus a job as night clerk at your local hotel. Or perhaps the unemployed worker who wants an educational upgrade right away. Students such as these have competing pressures to consider, and online education is their preferred vehicle.

Two questions are important to ask about the difference between online and in-person instruction. Is there any difference in delivery cost? Did your online literature class leave your professor behind when it moved from class to laptop? Did the academic sector of campus find itself doing less work? Were teachers fired on the spot so that online classes could be lumped together into even more mind-numbing aggregations of distance packages? If the cost of delivering semester credits remained the same, how is it fair to demand refunds of tuition–when tuition is defined as the academic portion of the bill?

The second question is, what choice did the schools have? There are several related questions: If the pandemic made the move to online education necessary, and if online instruction involved the same payroll, and if other students were receiving online instruction by choice prior to the pandemic, just how much money do we think the school should pay back? Should the schools have simply refunded tuition to all classroom enrolled students and stopped trying to help them complete their semester credits?

And if schools have to re-budget their credit-delivery tuition to a lower amount, how do you expect them to make up the difference? Larger class sizes? Fewer instructors? Surely you are not expecting across-the-board cuts to administrative salaries? Do you really think that’s how things work?

At any rate, I think students will likely benefit from the recent right-wing shift in our national courts. There was already a culture war on liberal sentiment, the liberal arts, and liberal education prior to the pandemic. Lawsuits that demand refunds for the academic emergency seem to play into a picture of colleges as elite liberal leeches who probably deserve a whipping of some kind.

Recalling our thesis of system values, the student lawsuits also represent a dialectical moment when higher education in America is viewed increasingly as the student’s problem to finance. The state has been shaving its share of commitment for many decades now–at least since Reaganomics–transforming a system of public finance into a system of student debt, a.k.a neoliberalismo. In this social moment, student lawsuits are social expressions of pushback against this system of values, where Alma Mater, or nurturing mother, is dragged into court for a sad family feud.

Meanwhile, all the student energy directed against local campus administrations has had the effect of deflecting pressure from the national stage just as several trillions of dollars have been allocated for COVID-19 relief. And according to the usual calendar of campus politics, the game is over. Once finals are done and grades are in for the Spring, college student activism usually goes into hibernation for at least several months.

We have seen no evidence that widespread student discontent was ever effectively delivered to the doors of Congress in the form of an appeal for direct federal relief. This may be a failure of media coverage or research on our part. Instead, we have seen Congress allocate modest relief funds for college students and campuses. In an election year, Congress would, in theory, be most susceptible to students organized to advocate and vote. But the pressure was never brought to bear at the Congressional level, where the real money is.

Forbes reporter Adam S. Minsky, Esq., reports that progressive Democrats wanted to award $30,000 in student loan relief across the board. As the final package of the HEROES Act was being negotiated prior to the House vote of May 15, the dollar amount of student loan relief was cut to $10,000, and the scope of relief was restricted to borrowers who demonstrated some defined forms of hardship.

There is money in the House-passed HEROES Act that can flow to public campuses, but the amounts are less than what organized higher ed interests groups had asked for. And this is another sign that the higher education community was unable to mount much of an organized voice at the national level during March, April, or May, preoccupied as they were with the day-to-day work of getting semester credits completed, slashing budgets for the next academic year, and generally contemplating the lifeboat ethics of who gets shoved off.

Meanwhile, back in the nation’s capital, the majority leader of the Senate and the President of the United States both promise that none of this modest HEROES money, in support of the public sector or higher ed, is going to see the light of day. If students are able to claw back funds through lawsuits, and if the HEROES Act dies in the Senate, the legacy of 2020 will be what?

The American tragedy here is that Mencius was correct. The personality of the ruler flows down through the kingdom. We have become a flock of bickering grackles. Above us, we fail to notice if that sky remains devoid of any farsighted, graceful eagle. If all values are system values, what system will we reach for after final grades are in?

Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and a member of the Texas Civil Rights Collective.

Covid-19 Justice Higher Education

In a World with Few Easy Answers, Why not Double Down on College?

By Greg Moses

Op-Ed News

Massive unemployment. College courses shifted online. Graduates looking for a place to celebrate. If we consider these three things in isolation from each other, without imagination, then it looks like nothing but total breakdown. Add a touch of vision, however, stir them together, and we begin to see a massive opportunity for a national commitment to higher education.

Instead of laying off dedicated college teachers, instead of denying the real value of distance education, instead of parking unemployed workers in streaming services filled with conspiracy theory documentaries, and instead of ignoring the joys that college graduates want to celebrate, we can choose to see an unprecedented opportunity.

Let’s begin with the demand that college students are making to celebrate their graduations. That demand is our guiding light. There is much joy and well-being in college life. As Spinoza argues, when we know the good, we desire to share its joys. I love this paragraph from Part Four of Spinoza’s Ethics:

“The good, which a person desires for themself and loves, they will love more constantly, if they see that others love it also; they will therefore endeavour that others should love it also; and as the good in question is common to all, and therefore all can rejoice therein, they will endeavour, for the same reason, to bring about that all should rejoice therein, and this they will do the more, in proportion as their own enjoyment of the good is greater.” (Eth. Pt. IV, PROP. XXXVII, pronouns adjusted)

As anyone who has attended a live graduation can attest, it is a time of great joy shared among students, faculty, staff, family, and friends. The difference that a college education makes is not fake joy. There are good reasons to celebrate and to share that celebration.

Massive unemployment, on the other hand, is neither good nor joyful. Depression is filled with hateful pains that are personal, social, economic, psychological and more. When all these things could have been avoided through foresight and wisdom, the pain is all the more intense. We feel and we know that these hateful pains must be transformed. Once again, we consider Spinoza:

“He who chooses to avenge wrongs with hatred is assuredly wretched. But he, who strives to conquer hatred with love, fights his battle in joy and confidence; he withstands many as easily as one, and has very little need of fortune’s aid. Those whom he vanquishes yield joyfully, not through failure, but through increase in their powers; all these consequences follow so plainly from the mere definitions of love and understanding, that I have no need to prove them in detail” (Eth. Pt. IV PROP. XLVI).

And this is where we have a choice to make about being forced to move higher education online. We can continue to hate it and fight it with hate, or we can open our attitude to another perspective, where the need for online education meets the population of unemployed and unemployable people literally where they live. There are millions of connections to make here. Seriously, we can make those connections in an unprecedented national gesture of love.

A call to share in a national renewal of higher education online is not to say that everyone needs a new degree plan. Students may want to refresh themselves in basic principles of biology, economics, psychology, entrepreneurship, technology, poetry, or film.

As we find ourselves today, we can seek to become that national leadership who exercises what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the strength to love.” To have strength for real love, we must be programmatic and strategic, mindful of material responsibilities that will support the bodies of students and teachers as we encourage their distant connection in mind. We have a choice before us. As Spinoza would remind us, we are always free to choose the uplifting task.

Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and a member of the Texas Civil Rights Collaborative.

Covid-19 Justice Higher Education

Deferred College Dreams Reveal COVID-19 Relief is a Civil Rights Issue

[CARES 2 changed to HEROES 5/12/20]

By Greg Moses


Assaults on Civil Rights can be loud, with microphones or guns, but the effects of structural racism are often hushed, in the silence of dreams deferred. Whether we hear it or not, the Civil Rights rollback of 2020 is well underway.

To feel how Civil Rights are rolling back in a quiet, ebbing tide of college enrollments, take a look at two Austin, TX, high schools. The Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA) is three miles away from the Northeast Early College High School, but the two schools are worlds apart, according to the “schools comparison” tool at the Austin Independent School District.

The High School Divide

At LASA, ten percent of students are economically disadvantaged, compared to 91 percent percent of students at Northeast. And while LASA reports a 100 percent pass rate for state reading exams, with only a half-dozen English language learners out of 1,280 students enrolled, the Northeast school, with 450 English language learners out of 1,140 students enrolled, has a reading pass rate of 54 percent.

In terms of supports for students and families, Northeast is a community school with breakfast in the classroom, child care during the day, after-school meals, and community mentoring. LASA, a magnet school, has none of the above. LASA is 48 percent white, 23 percent Asian, 21 percent Hispanic, and 2 percent African American. Northeast is 80 percent Hispanic, 14 percent African American, 3 percent white, and 2 percent Asian.

Comparing these schools helps to grasp the meaning of the FAFSA completion rate, a measure of how many high school students have filled out the tedious federal application for college financial aid. At LASA, compared to last year, the FAFSA completion rate is up about 40 percent. At Northeast, compared to last year, that completion rate is down 65 percent.

Across the country and under our watch, 50,000 fewer high school students have completed the FAFSA application this year over last, reports the National College Attainment Network (NCAN). As our tale of two schools shows, within the overall decline lies a discouragement gap, where a 40 percent uptick at one school is contrasted against a 65 percent drop-off at another.

“In 2018, high school graduates missed out on $2.6 billion in free assistance for college because they did not submit a FAFSA,” says an Apr. 23 letter to the Department of Education (ED), signed by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and 25 other members of Congress. “2020 is on track to be even worse, with FAFSA completion rates continuing to decline during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The letter asks ED to boost visibility of FAFSA and reach out to students more proactively.

Doggett’s district includes the LASA campus. The Northeast campus is captured within the district lines of Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX), who was not a signatory to the Doggett letter. A May 9 search for “FAFSA” at McCaul’s official House website “yielded no results.”

The Retention Slide

While lagging FAFSA completion rates are troubling enough among economically disadvantaged high school students, an even larger problem is brewing among students already in college who are not renewing their FAFSA applications.

NCAN’s data guru Bill DeBaun reported May 6 that a quarter million college students who could be returning in the Fall have not yet completed their FAFSA renewals. “This cycle’s declines in FAFSA renewals have more than doubled since Feb. 29,” reports DeBaun, calling attention to a date two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic was officially declared a national emergency by the President on Friday the 13th in March.

As our two-school comparison illustrates, declines are steeper in FAFSA rates among our most economically disadvantaged students. “With more data points now available, a grim picture for future enrollment at higher education institutions is beginning to emerge,” writes Owen Daugherty, staff reporter for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA).

Civil Rights

Polling results confirm these grim anticipations. Based on a late-April survey conducted by the women-owned firm SimpsonScarborough, 26 percent of enrolled college students say they are not likely to come back in the Fall. That’s a 12 percentage-point increase in pessimism compared to late March.

The SimpsonScarborough report documents a few more civil rights impacts of the COVID-19 landscape. Forty one percent of “minority” high school seniors are reluctant to commit to college in the Fall, compared to 24 percent of white students.

Thirty three percent of minority students report that “their top choice school has changed” due to COVID-19, compared to 15 percent of white students. And, among today’s enrolled college students, 32 percent of minority students say it’s unlikely they will go back to college in the Fall, compared to 22 percent of white students.

On the other hand, 18 percent of “minority” students would rather go ahead and finish with an online-only education, compared to 13 percent of white students.

Solutions Delayed

As the writings of Rep. Doggett, NCAN, and NASFAA demonstrate, there is a vigilant and organized community of support for disadvantaged students. The question is, will there be leverage enough to ensure that college student relief is amply funded in the next rescue package, styled the HEROES Act.

Public funding for higher ed has already taken two big hits this century. And while the Recovery Act of 2009 filled a sizable pothole at the time, some states “are still well below pre-recession levels of state funding while a handful have recovered,” says a comprehensive review by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO). “Most states have increased tuition revenues to more than make up for cuts in state funding for higher education, but almost one-third still have lower total revenue than before the Great Recession.”

As the real SHEEO tells it, slowly but surely, public support for higher education has eroded throughout the century, offloading more of the financial burden onto tuition, which in turn gets shoveled into multi-decade burdens of student-loan debt.

The battle for college relief in HEROES is not just about filling the pothole that the pandemic is causing these days. The deeper question of HEROES is whether America is going to wake up to the social value of higher education as we enter the third decade of the 21st Century. Rip Van Winkle slept for 20 years. Don’t we think it’s time to wake up?

College students do benefit, by and large, from their college experience. They are more prosperous as a group and have greater well-being. Furthermore, the communities that surround college campuses are nourished by the relative well-being of college life.

The question is, do we want to continue making college students pay an increasing share of the complete structure of higher ed, like some fee for service, or do we want to start increasing our support from the public treasury, because a well-educated state is a wise public investment.

Student Leadership

Young Invincibles last Wednesday released a 5-point plan to protect young people: (1) job creation through tax credits and subsidies, (2) stimulus payments that do not swerve way around young people or DACA families, (3) food subsidies that reach more than three percent of college students, and (4) Medicaid expansion combined with access to the Affordable Care Act that, again, does not fence out DACA students. The final point (5) calls on Congress to “Make Higher Education Work Better for Students.

“At a time of unprecedented investment in the national economy and direct support for individuals, Congress should move to make a long-overdue commitment to public higher education,” argue Young Invincibles. “Congress should form partnerships with states that preserve student access and affordability.”

Finally, Young Invincibles speak of the elephant in the room: the student loan system of higher ed finance.

“More than 43 million Americans bear a collective total of more than $1.7 trillion in outstanding student loan debt,” state the Young Invincibles. Two months ago that sounded like a whole lot of money, that is, until the first CARES Act rang up a bill of $2 trillion or until the Federal Reserve Bank announced what Brookings calls “$2.3 trillion in lending to support households, employers, financial markets, and state and local governments” plus “$1 trillion in daily overnight repo.”

Whichever way we calculate the cost of doing too little for higher ed right now, we cannot forget that any average estimate of social damage in America always hides a discouragement gap that intensifies negative impacts along Civil Rights lines. Real support for young people across the board will be necessary to any rising tide in Civil Rights.

Greg Moses is editor of The Texas Civil Rights Review and a member of the Texas Civil Rights Collaborative.

Covid-19 Justice Higher Education

Gen Z Begins Fightback for College Relief

By Greg Moses


College students last week gained tenacious footing and found ways to fight back against pandemics of disease and insecurity, but their struggle is still overlooked in the grand scheme of trillion-dollar rescues that focus on fruits, not roots of human flourishing.

After a month-long delay caused by a foot-dragging and mean-spirited Department of Education (ED), a few college students in the last days of April got federal help with the cost of housing, food, child-care, and course materials.

Based on applications they were finally able to file after 6pm April 29, about 2,000 students at Houston Community College received a total of $1.6 million over a 15-hour period, an average of $800 apiece. Half the money requested went into rent.

While this partial rescue of some Houston students was matched here and there, millions more students did not see CARES Act funding by May Day, because many colleges went into the weekend intimidated by an ED warning that more rules could be posted, maybe today, to further restrict the emergency relief funds that Congress passed into law Mar. 27.

Financial aid offices are feeling guarded about ED directives that first secured signed oaths of obedience and then promulgated startling edicts on an irregular schedule. Witness the case of the 13 FAQs that two weeks ago banned emergency relief for undocumented students, foreign students, and citizens who were not already FAFSA qualified for federal Title IV relief, such as Pell Grants. Democrats in Congress complained last week about the ED restrictions, but any wrangling at this point can only aggravate the issue of justice delayed.

National Student Fightback

Last week was also a week of emerging fightback as two national student interest orgs began to shake off shock waves that have stunned higher ed communities since President Donald J. Trump declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency on Friday the 13th in March.

In an open letter to college and university leaders posted Apr. 27, Young Invincibles asked Harvard and Stanford to reverse what they did two weeks ago when the schools refused to accept federal money that was headed in their direction for emergency student relief. The campuses were bullied out of accepting the relief funds, when Trump and others argued that the campuses were rich enough to rescue their own students locally. Young Invincibles argued that federal funding rules would have allowed the schools to give CARES Act money to nearby campuses if there was not sufficient need among their own students.

“Harvard could have sent their money to Bunker Hill Community College,” says the letter, referring to published ED guidelines. “Stanford could have sent theirs to Bay Area community colleges. How could anyone who has followed education for the last three years entrust dollars Congress explicitly directed be put in the hands of students as fast as possible instead back in the hands of this Department of Education?”

President Trump and cabinet cadres aimed blazing attacks at well-endowed campuses for the offense of having federal funds given them to help students with emergency relief. As it turns out, the same rule makers who restricted the funds to FAFSA qualified recipients and who gave campuses the ability to share with neighboring campuses were—those very same rule makers–not interested in the speedy flow of relief according to the rules they made. Instead, they took the opportunity to shame well-endowed schools for having the wherewithal to be well-endowed in the first place.

A statement by Stanford on Apr. 22 totally dressed itself in the fast fashion of vicious resentments enunciated by Trump, et al. Stanford talked about its own identity in relation to “smaller colleges,” completely forgetting that half the money was mandated to go into the hands of students, not any college of any size, or that all of the money could have directly helped students with housing, food, child care, and technology.

Meanwhile, news out of California indicates that Stanford is likely engaging in predatory labor practices in the way it laid off workers. One rule of CARES Act funds requires institutions to preserve jobs as far as practically possible. So, how do we make the case that Stanford couldn’t have allocated millions in emergency relief for its students, allowing more people to cope with California rent notices, meanwhile shuffling some of its fungible “bigger university” money to workers, who, by the way, also have May rent, June food, and child care bills to pay.

Another example of pushback came from Student Defense, the National Student Defense Network, which filed a class action lawsuit on Apr. 30 against ED and its Secretary Elisabeth DeVos for unlawful garnishment of wages for student loan payments. ED had promised in a press release of Mar. 25 that wage garnishments would be stopped immediately, two days before the CARES Act banned the practice through Sept. 30. On the day Trump signed the CARES Act, DeVos addressed the President at a White House coronavirus task force press briefing and declared that garnishment had been stopped, “altogether.”

On Apr. 21, The Washington Post reported that ED was “dragging its feet.” Letters had not yet been sent to employers directing them to stop the garnishments. On Apr. 24, as the Student Defense lawsuit alleges, a paycheck was garnished belonging to 59-year-old home health care aide Elizabeth Barber, who is paying for an unfinished psychology degree, and whose earnings total about $20,000 a year. Barber and Student Defense are suing in behalf of all federal student loan borrowers “from whom the Department is garnishing wages in violation of the CARES Act.”

Distractions of Indignity

The Trump thump on the heads of world-historical campuses, combined with the petty indifferences of ED, are not only cruel tactics. Their cruelty has strategic effect, provoking controversies over petty cash while world-historical deals are cut, out of sight, denominated in trillions.

The CBO shared a few slides in preparation for its Apr. 28 briefing before the House Budget Committee, projecting that the US labor force will suffer an 18-percent depression-sized reduction in Q3. Real GDP will contract 12 percent in Q2. The federal deficit will run to $3.7 trillion in fiscal 2020, up from the $1 trillion widely expected before Spring Break.

As a result of this wartime-level deficit spending, not seen since 1945, the federal debt will rise from the 79 percent of GDP that we saw in 2019 to–wait for it–108 percent of GDP in 2021. That’s a virtual 30 percentage point rise in the national debt because of pandemic costs.

While a multi-trillion-dollar Trump pump in debt and deficit deployment is underway, he’s got his cabinet down in the weeds, bickering with us over chump change. I am not saying that the money is meaningless to the people who need it. I am not saying that Young Invincibles or Campus Defense should stop fighting for the dollars they can rescue. What I am arguing is that while we are engaged in those tactical battles, we have to maintain strategic capacities of analysis. Almost two months into this national emergency, no serious federal program for college relief has been dealt into the cards. We have not grasped the world-historical scope of our higher ed struggle.

No Money to Follow

Do the states have the capacity to support our college economies? Last Monday, the going estimate from the National Governor’s Association was that half a trillion in Congressional support would be needed to keep state budgets from collapsing. By Wednesday morning, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), having previewed the CBO slide show, clarified the predicament.

States will be lucky to face $110 billion in shortfalls in 2020, says CBPP. Come 2021, we are looking at a $350 billion shortfall, the worst of the century–worse than the dot com bust of ’01 or the financial crisis of ’08. And if we do manage to get a handle on this pandemic, then the shortfall for 2022 will only be $190 billion. Total state shortfalls for the three-year war on COVID-19? $650 billion. Do we prime that pump today, or do we wait?

Take Texas for example. With an economy of a quarter-million college students, do you think Texas will step in and save its colleges from unforgettable cuts? The speaker of the Texas house is already requiring state agencies to cut budgets. If you think this is not a leading indicator, please go find me some flag-wrapped gun-toting protester who is planning to volunteer their personal income tax for the first time in Texas history. Either that–or assume austerity of the grim-season kind.

Roots for Gen Z

If states don’t step up, if the federal government doesn’t weigh in with a trillion-dollar deal, will we ask students to soak up tuition increases and bundle them into another generation of loans?

Forty percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 are hanging onto a college dream. Editor Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed reports that consensus estimates are converging on a 20 percent decline in enrollment for four-year colleges come Fall 2020.

“In the meantime,” higher education expert Ben Miller of the Center for American Progress tells CounterPunch, “what I’m really worried about is what this remote learning environment is going to mean for students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. We definitely need to ensure that federal money goes to increase supports for these individuals.”

As Miller worries, the combination of economic trauma and technology-intensive solutions will surely aggravate social inequalities, hurting rising classes most among Black and Latinx communities, even as the US is emerging as a majority minority society.

The national flotilla of higher ed has been set adrift. We have an officially declared national emergency that has devolved into campus-by-campus recriminations. Every local battle over tuition and fees overlooks the compulsory pressure of global pandemic and internalizes the assumption that our struggles are not worth national relief. As a result, each and every campus will contribute to declining national labor participation. In the end, the objective futility of a campus-by-campus strategy will impair college opportunities for Gen Z across the board.

So where is national leadership in this struggle? Last week, Young Invincibles and Student Defense established a kind of bulkhead for a national student struggle. Under normal circumstances the timing is lousy. The last thing you want to see is student momentum only beginning to build as we head into final exams. Technology and social media may offer hope, that is, if it these methods can withstand onslaughts of resentment and discrimination that are already dominating trending discourse.

Are we seriously going to drift along into a COVID-19 solution for higher ed that will effectively offload the cost of this debacle onto upstream cargos of student debt? We are already in this moral equivalent of war together, as one Harvard professor nearly said. Are we going to fight to win it?

If this debate ever works its way to #trending, and if we are bold enough to talk in terms of trillion dollar deals, I hope we will consider the counsel of that world-historical educator, Confucius, who in his higher education mission statement of 500 BCE declared, “It cannot be, when the root is neglected, that what should spring from it will be well ordered. It never has been the case that what was of great importance has been slightly cared for.” While we make visible efforts to protect the earned fruits of Boomers, Millennials, and generations in between, it cannot be the case that we silently care slightly for the roots of Gen Z.

Greg Moses is editor of The Texas Civil Rights Review and a member of the Texas Civil Rights Collaborative.

Covid-19 Justice Higher Education

$50B for Higer Ed Relief will Help, if it Supports Underrepresented Students: Q&A with Higher Ed Expert Ben Miller

The Texas Civil Rights Review (TCRR) is doing incubator work on ideas to make a difference during the higher ed crisis precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. So we reached out to Ben Miller, Vice President for Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress.

We were drawn to Miller by something he said to Inside Higher Ed: “Everything’s really, really terrible for everybody.” We asked Miller a couple of big-picture questions.

TCRR: You suggest that perhaps relief to colleges should come in the state and local government installment. How much do you think is needed?

Miller: So I think the exact amount needed depends on the total amount provided to states for everything. The less you give states in total, the more your higher ed number probably needs to be, because that’s going to be the place for a lot of cuts.

In general, I think the National Governor’s Association request of $500 billion more for states is probably the minimum of what we need, at least assuming we get back to something looking like normalcy by late summer or early fall. We’ll probably need more if we go longer than that, which is totally possible.

So, at $500 billion total for states, $50 billion, give or take, for higher ed, is probably about right. I’m not sure it’s going to be enough for the whole of the crisis, but it could at least get us through the fall.

If you think about it, total state spending for public higher ed is about $96 billion. So $50 billion that can be spent over a couple of years is a meaningful level of assistance.

TCRR: Students are showing signs of resistance, but their tactics are focused on campus administrations. To us, this is like asking cities and towns to take the lead in paying for COVID-19 costs. Would a realistic federal relief plan for campuses be able to help reframe the campus costs of COVID-19 as a federal issue, not a campus-by-campus issue?

Miller: The student reaction on prices is tough. Those who are most vehement about pushback are at expensive private colleges, which makes sense, because their whole value proposition is that they provide that high-touch, in-person experience.

In the public space, my fear is we’ll see massive tuition spikes that aren’t really the schools’ fault. And that’s where you need the state money to avert those.

What the money won’t do is affect the perceived quality of teaching. I think a lot of students out there feel like even the best online option is not giving them equivalent value of the in-person experience. Part of that gets at the fact that the price of what they are paying for is not just the academics but the overall experience. That’s going to be a tough sell and sort of rests on the colleges to figure it out. Now, greater funding would help mitigate that price from going up. But, for those places that are already expensive, it won’t really help them.

In the meantime, what I’m really worried about is what this remote learning environment is going to mean for students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. We definitely need to ensure that some of that additional federal money goes to increase supports for these individuals.