Monday, July 20, 2020

Brilliant idea to reverse access to educational privilege

Eboo Patel, known for his inter-faith work, weighed in on how to reverse access to educational privilege - elite institutions (yes, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Yale, Penn, Dartmouth, Duke, Vanderbilt and more) should admit only students whose families make less than $100,000/year for the next decade. Inequity in access is not only characteristic of elite private institutions but of selective publics as well, perhaps justifying the applicability of Patel's advice beyond the Ivy League. The proposal would not only benefit those students who have never had access to elite higher education before but would benefit the students who typically go to elite universities and never have the opportunity to actually see how the other 90% lives.

I believe Patel is accurate in saying that those students who have the supposed credentials and money to go to select universities will not suffer - they will still enter a work world that is based on networks of generational privilege. One difference that would come from reversing access is that suddenly students who have the capability to function in elite education would be afforded the opportunity to fulfill their potential. Another difference is that the new <$100,000/year students would transfer elite institutions and the knowledge the disseminate in very important ways.

Based on decades of research that indicates that how students engage in their learning is more important to educational outcomes than where they attend university, undistinguished universities would also suddenly be able to demonstrate that they actually provide a quality of education that is commensurate with what elite institutions claim. The playing field among young people and institutions would begin to level in ways that has never been seen anywhere in the world and what a difference it could make.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Botched policy for internationalization

Multiple publications (Inside Higher EducationForbes and NPR are three) warned of the impacts of denying study visas to international students whose host institutions moved online in the face of COVID-19. The unwillingness of the Trump administration to formulate a national approach to controlling the spread of COVID-19 resulted in spikes in many areas of the USA, forcing more universities to move to partial or complete online instruction in the fall of 2020.

This ill-fated effort to pressure universities to open and to restrict international student options was abandoned when the judge at the initial hearing of the Harvard and MIT complaint announced that the government had withdrawn the July directive and returned to the March advice, allowing greater continuing flexibility for international students to take online courses. Educators viewed the status of new international students as ambiguous and 17 states and the District of Columbia joined in a lawsuit demanding clarity on whether they would be allowed to study online or not. The lack of definitive policy resulted in some institutions advising new international students to not begin their programs in the new academic year. ICE directed that new international students could not study 100% online although hybrid combinations of in-person and online courses were acceptable. Democratic lawmakers countered by sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security recommending flexibility for new international students. Ultimately, international students were allowed to continue whatever form of study they were pursuing in March of 2020 through the end of spring 2021.

The perfect conundrum - a pandemic out of control as a result of no national coordination, universities scrambled to respond based on their unique circumstances, Trump declared that educational institutions must open for in-person instruction, and ICE restricted trade opportunity at a national level by declaring that international students must study in person. Some viewed the proposed restriction as non-sensical and poor  policy formation and others viewed it as simply a strong-arm effort to force institutions to go completely or substantially in-person, a path that neglected institutional uniqueness and the disparities in the spread of COVID-19 throughout the USA.

Restrictions placed on international students brought very real economic calamity for institutions and individuals as enrollment declined. It also had the potential to disrupt thousands of students' progress on their degrees, to undermine the contribution international students make to the diverse mix of USA institutions, to interrupt diplomatic relations, and to destroy future business opportunity of friendly partners throughout the world. Months after the initial flap over Trump administration mandates and subsequent reversals, Trump officials came back in September of 2020 with a new mandate that international students be granted only fixed-term visas and then be forced to apply for extensions if their degrees were not completed within 4 years. Again in October 20 the Depart of Homeland Security through ICE began a "round up" of international students that it believed were improperly granted OPT work visas after completing their degrees. The original efforts coupled with continuing restriction proposals gives international students in the USA a very clear governmental message - you don't belong here!

The Trump administration's new rules on eligibility and fees for H-1B visas as well as stipulations on salaries for faculty and researchers at universities are additional examples of botched policy. The policies, which were distributed without consultation, impact graduate students who wish to stay in the U.S. after completing advanced degrees and other faculty and researchers that provide critical intellectual resources to many colleges and universities. A consortium of colleges and universities sued the government over the new requirements and a federal judge struck down the Trump visa rules in December, 2020.

While the Trump administration disrupted USA international student enrollment, the United Kingdom was considering charter flights to make it easier for international students to access their academic programs and Hong Kong launched a major recruitment effort. By contrast, New Zealand's government decided to stop study visas for international students based on protecting the country from experiencing COVID-19 again after completely eliminating it. The uniqueness of the U.S.A. environment is that institutions have been interrupted and students thrown into a very uncertain future because of arbitrary and capricious action by the Trump administration - botched and shifting policy at every turn.