Archives for category: Higher Education

I posted a delightful article by Jennifer Raab, President of Hunter College, celebrating the importance of public higher education, which has provided opportunity to so many students from low-income and immigrant families.

A faculty member of the City University of New York wrote to say that budget cuts are strangling the promise of public higher education.

He wrote:

Public education requires more than cheerleading: right now, we also need advocates who are willing to fight for it. And while Virginia may have been an impressive alumna of Hunter College, this year Governor Cuomo has held back 20% of CUNY funding based on an expectation of a dramatic state shortfall. While the shortfall has been much less than predicted, the cuts to public education have occurred anyways. 

At Hunter and other CUNY schools, those cuts have meant heavy lay-offs of adjunct faculty. Their courses have been cancelled and, as a result, students are being squeezed into over-crowded classes. A course that, a year ago, might have worked with 30 students in person, this semester will have 40 students in a Zoom room. That’s nowhere near the level of teaching and engagement that Virginia received. And that’s a real tragedy.


In a year in which our public officials have insisted they will fight for greater equity, we need leaders who will fight for the country’s largest public university to be fully funded and its students to be given the quality of education they deserve. We need leaders who don’t only celebrate CUNY’s past, but demand that its traditions of providing a first-rate education for all New Yorkers be maintained in the present and into the future. And if that requires fighting, let’s insist that they take up that battle.

This is a beautiful article by Jennifer Raab, president of Hunter College, which is part of the City University of New York. It appeared in the New York Daily News. When Virginia O’Hanlon attended Hunter College, the City University was tuition-free. In 1976, CUNY began to charge tuition, but it remains far less than private colleges and universities, and many students can piece together aid packages from state and federal funds.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” It may be the most famous sentence in the history of local journalism.

Virginia O’Hanlon of 115 W. 95th St. was just 8 years old when she composed a letter to the editor, writing: “Some of my friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

Yes, there is, the paper guaranteed her. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

Those in the know must have been shocked to learn that the words came from the pen of veteran journalist Francis Pharcellus Church, brother of the Sun’s editor. Known to colleagues as a hard-boiled cynic, Church had never written so sentimentally. Now he tenderly assured young Virginia: “Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders that are unseen and unseeable in the world.”

Soon enough, thanks to free public higher education, Virginia saw those wonders for herself. Many of today’s newspaper readers know about the editorial. It has been widely reprinted, in the Daily News among many other papers, each year since it first appeared. It has inspired musical pageants.

But few know what happened to Virginia — or that her path in life actually followed Church’s advice to imagine the best.

The daughter of an NYPD coroner, young Virginia soon began harboring dreams that stretched beyond St. Nick’s annual visits. She aspired to teach — and motivate — children herself. So 10 years after writing to the Sun, Virginia O’Hanlon enrolled at Hunter College, which then, as now, educated many of the teachers employed by the New York City school system. Crucially, Hunter offered higher education to women of all races and religions — a rarity at the time of the school’s 1870 founding.

Graduating in 1910, Virginia went on to earn a Master’s and Ph.D., lived through the 1918 influenza pandemic, and taught grade school for decades. Eventually, she became junior principal of PS 401 in Brooklyn, a school renowned for providing an early version of “remote learning” to chronically sick children confined to the borough’s hospitals.

In 1949, Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas returned to Hunter to address students at her alma mater (and of course, retell her Santa Claus story). She retired in 1959, and died nearly 50 years ago, in 1971.

Her life — both the storybook version and the equally uplifting reality — serves as a reminder not only of faith questioned and reignited, but of the opportunities New York public education continues to provide, even now, amid the most stressful and prolonged crisis in city history.

In fact, when CollegeNET recently released its annual Social Mobility Index rankings of America’s colleges, it did not look at all like the usual “Best Colleges” lists topped by Ivy League names. The index, which analyzes colleges’ success at graduating low-income students into well-paying jobs, was front-loaded with public universities. Hunter ranked 9th out of 1,449 schools.

More than a century after Virginia matriculated, Hunter’s student population still offers a springboard to opportunity. Hunter has already served as the launchpad for, among others, Bella Abzug, Martina Arroyo, Ruby Dee, Pauli Murray, Dr. Rosalyn Yalow — and from our high school, such luminaries as Elena Kagan and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Always, we’ve taken particular pride in students, from here and overseas, who are the first in their families to attend college.

Just look what the most recent graduating class is up to. Elliot Natanov, the son of immigrants who fled anti-Semitism in Uzbekistan, is now pursuing a career in sports medicine. Ahmet Doymaz, who immigrated from Turkey as a child, studies cancer and cell regulation. Evelyn Tawil, daughter of Syrian refugees, is pursuing a graduate degree in landscape architecture. Jennifer Dikler, whose parents fled Russia, won a coveted Luce Scholarship to study trade policy in Asia.

Among recent grads, Margarita Labkovich became a Schwartzman Fellow in 2020 and will spend a year at Beijing’s Tsinghua University before returning to medical school and resuming her career as chief operating officer of Retina Technologies (she already holds two patents). And Thamara Jean, daughter of a Haitian-born synagogue superintendent, now attends Oxford University as Hunter’s first-ever Rhodes Scholar. These remarkable young people are soaring above their circumstances, with Hunter’s full support at their backs — and no debt collectors at their front doors.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus: it’s called public education.

After President-Elect Biden announced his new national security team, a group of experienced, highly competent professionals, Senator Marco Rubio mocked them in a tweet, mostly because they are well-educated. Presumably he’s trying to grab Trump’s mantle as champion of the uneducated.

Brianna Keillor of CNN shredded Rubin’s baloney, pointing out that the Trump administration included many Ivy League graduates, such as Trump, who went to Penn and frequently boasted about his Ivy League credentials. Neither Biden nor Harris are Ivy Leaguers. Marco Rubio of full of baloney, even if it’s shredded.

Mitchell Robinson, a professor at Michigan State University, has advice for state Democratic parties about their message to voters. He suggests what they need to do to attract new voters and turn red legislatures blue. Two big ideas: expand internet access and promote public education, K-16.

He begins:

1. Better, more affordable access to broadband internet service

In a digital age, access to fast, secure internet service is not only a basic human need–akin to utilities like electricity, water, and gas/oil–but it’s a requirement for candidates building a digital campaign infrastructure. Not being able to reliably connect to persons in remote areas of your state, or to those who live in urban areas plagued by internet deserts, severely hampers the ability to convey a candidate’s or party’s message, policy beliefs, or positions on issues. It also leaves persons without reliable internet access to the mercies of our information sources like Fox News or the Detroit News–meaning that they are less informed than someone with no media access at all.

2. Improve support for public education, including community colleges and state universities

One of the single largest predictors of voting patterns is the level of education among a group of potential voters. In general, the more educated a person is, the more likely that person is to vote, and to vote for Democratic candidates. Areas and states with a lower percentage of college-educated voters tend to vote Republican, and more educated areas tend to vote for Democrats. It just stands to reason that increasing the number of college-educated voters would lead to a more Democratic populace.

At the same time, the concerted attacks on public institutions under Republicans have decimated public schools in both our largest cities and the most sparsely populated regions in the country. Aside from race and ethnicity, the demographics and socio-economic issues in cities and rural areas are surprisingly similar–including the damage that has been done by Republican and neoliberal ed reform policies to students, teachers, and schools in both urban and rural communities.

  • Imagine a Democratic platform that features free community college tuition and affordable access to state colleges and universities, and a return to the kind of financial support from state legislatures that was common as recently as the late 1970s.

Open the link and read his other strong ideas to change the political dynamic.

The California State Attorney General, Xavier Becerra and 48 other states and the Consumer Financial Bureau won a $330 million settlement on behalf of students from a now-defunct for-profit “college.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with 48 states and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on Tuesday announced a $330 million settlement with ITT Technical Institute (ITT Tech), the now-defunct predatory for-profit college, and PEAKS, its holding company. The settlement, which in California is pending court approval, resolves allegations of an illegal private student loan scheme that harmed student borrowers by misdirecting them towards expensive student loans that they struggled to repay. The settlement will automatically discharge PEAKS’ entire student-loan portfolio with loan forgiveness for anyone with an outstanding PEAKS loan. This will provide relief for more than 43,000 borrowers nationwide, including 4,000 Californians. PEAKS will also be required to shut down after carrying out the settlement.

“As students strive for a college degree, their attention should be on their studies not on being cheated by unscrupulous lenders,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Using a private lending scheme, ITT Tech saddled students with massive debt, exorbitant interest rates, and a worthless diploma. Today’s settlement removes the financial handcuffs gripping thousands of California students defrauded by ITT Tech. These students and former students can now wake up from this borrower’s nightmare. At the California Department of Justice, we will continue to crackdown on predatory for-profit colleges that focus on dollars instead of diplomas.”

Over 600 faculty and staff at Penn have organized Penn for PILOTS and issued a statement calling on the university to make “payments in lieu of taxes” (PILOTs) to the Philadelphia public schools. As is well known, the public schools in Philadelphia are chronically underfunded, thanks to a hostile Republican legislature, and they are currently facing devastating cuts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Penn is the largest property owner in Philadelphia and the only Ivy League university that doesn’t pay PILOTs. Calls for PILOTs have surfaced for years, but support for the idea has now reached an unprecedented level. A significant number of Penn faculty and staff believe that it is time for the university to pay its fair share for public schools.

As the organizing statement of the group says, Penn is the seventh wealthiest university in the nation, and the Philadelphia schools are among the poorest in the nation.

This is the petition of the organizers. The statement begins:

We are faculty and staff at the University of Pennsylvania who believe that Penn has a responsibility to ensure adequate funding for the Philadelphia public schools. Penn is the largest property owner in the city of Philadelphia, but as a non-profit institution, it pays no property taxes on its non-commercial properties. In other words, it contributes nothing to the tax base that funds Philadelphia’s public school system—this in a city whose schools are underfunded and facing deep budget cuts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Commitment

Penn should contribute to an Educational Equity Fund governed by the school district and city of Philadelphia. These would be payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs)—a fraction of what Penn would owe if it were subject to property tax assessment. We commit ourselves to seeing our university pay its fair share.

Nearly every other Ivy League university already makes payments in lieu of taxes. Penn would be joining the ranks of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, and Dartmouth in recognizing its financial obligation to the community of which it is a part.

The supporters of this demand explain their rationale:

This is not a matter of charity but of justice. Penn’s tax exemption is predicated on the notion that it is a non-profit institution that exists to fulfill a public purpose, not a for-profit corporation that exists to accumulate capital. That distinction must be made meaningful. Today, Penn is the seventh richest university in the country. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has the highest poverty rate of the ten largest cities in the United States. If Penn’s public mission is to have any meaning at all, the university must not be an exemplar or engine of urban inequality.

Yet the existing system of public finance ensures that Penn benefits from city services that it does not pay to maintain. Penn’s administrators, faculty, and staff rely on city schools, sanitation services, transportation, and other programs. Penn’s location in the city of Philadelphia is one of its defining characteristics that enables the university to attract faculty and students. When the university does not pay for the services and environment that make its work possible, other Philadelphians are left to make up the difference—or city schools and other institutions simply go without. Penn has a duty to contribute to the city that sustains it.

Here is their list of frequently asked questions.

The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about this remarkable movement.

I salute the faculty and staff at Penn who support this movement. The financial condition of the Philadelphia public schools is dire. They need all the help they can get. In this age on intense individualism and greed, it is wonderful to see people acting with a sense of social responsibility.

Harvard University has dropped the SAT as a Condition of admission for the new class entering in fall 2021.

The Boston Globe reports:


In a pivotal decision that will likely ripple across higher education, Harvard University announced on Monday that it will not require next year’s undergraduate applicants to submit standardized test scores.

The decision comes amid fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and growing criticism that standardized test requirements unfairly penalize students of color.

A coalition of civil rights groups and education advocates intend to send a letter on Tuesday to elite colleges, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and UMass Amherst, urging them to scrap the SAT and ACT altogether.

“[We] call upon you to stand up against practices that institutionalize racial inequity and take action to ensure your institution promotes the type of inclusive diversity that is critical for generating sustainable solutions and a better future for all,” says the letter, written by The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and signed by 10 other organizations and provided to the Globe.

Harvard’s decision is temporary. The university has defended its admissions policy and its strategy to build a diverse student body in court. Last fall, a federal district court judge in Boston ruled in favor of Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy, although opponents are looking to overturn that judgment on appeal.

FairTest has been battling the abuse, misuse, and overuse of standardized testing since the early 1970s. It took a global pandemic to demonstrate that students applying to college need not take a standardized test for admission. How will colleges decide whom to admit? They will figure it out. Just watch. Many colleges and universities went test-optional years ago and managed to choose their first-year class.

MORE THAN HALF OF ALL U.S. FOUR-YEARS COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES WILL BE TEST-OPTIONAL FOR FALL 2021 ADMISSION;

SHARP INCREASE IN SCHOOLS DROPPING ACT/SAT DRIVES TOTAL TO 1,240

A new tally of higher education testing policies shows that more than half of all 4-year colleges and universities will not require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores for fall 2021 admission. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), which maintains a master list, reports that 1,240 institutions are now test-optional. The National Center for Educational Statistics counted 2,330 U.S. bachelor-degree granting schools during the 2018-2019 academic year.

Fully 85% of the U.S. News “Top 100” national liberal arts colleges now have ACT/SAT-optional policies in place, according to a FairTest data table. So do 60 of the “Top 100” national universities, including such recent additions as Brown, CalTech, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, UPenn, Virginia, Washington University in St. Louis, and Yale.

Bob Schaeffer, FairTest’s interim Executive Director, explained, “The test-optional admissions was growing rapidly before the COVID-19 pandemic. 2019 was the best year ever with 51 more schools dropping ACT/SAT requirements, driving the total to 1,040. Another 21 colleges and universities followed suit in the first 10 weeks of this year. Since mid-March, however, the strong ACT/SAT-optional wave became a tsunami.” FairTest has led the test-optional movement since the late-1980s when standardized exams were required by all but a handful of schools.

A FairTest chronology shows that nearly 200 additional colleges and universities have gone test-optional so far this spring. All told, U.S. News now lists more than 540 test-optional schools in the first tier of their respective classifications, including public university systems in California, Delaware, Indiana, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Washington State.

“We are especially pleased to see many public universities and access-oriented private colleges deciding that test scores are not needed to make sound admissions decisions,” Schaeffer continued. “By going test-optional, all types of schools can increase diversity without any loss of academic quality. Eliminating ACT/SAT requirements is a ‘win-win’ for students and schools.”

New Tally – Majority of Colleges Are ACT/SAT-Optional for 2021

Schaeffer also noted that interest in FairTest’s web directory has spiked over the past three months, “Daily visitor levels have nearly tripled, demonstrating the appeal of test-optional admissions to teenagers, who know that these schools will treat them as more than a score.”
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– FairTest’s frequently updated directory of test-optional, 4-year schools is available free online at https://www.fairtest.org/university/optional — sort geographically by clicking on “State”

– A current chronology of schools dropping ACT/SAT requirements is at http://www.fairtest.org/sites/default/files/Optional-Growth-Chronology.pdf

– The list of test-optional schools ranked in the top tiers by U.S. News & World Report is posted at http://www.fairtest.org/sites/default/files/Optional-Schools-in-U.S.News-Top-Tiers.pdf

Bad news for the College Board, which owns the SAT. Yale University is going test-optional for the class entering in fall 2021.

Today Yale became the fifth Ivy League school to adopt a test-optional policy for the class of undergraduates who will be applying for admission in the fall of 2021. It joins Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania who have also announced they would not require either the SAT or ACT for their Class of 2025 undergraduate applicants.

According to a statement on Yale’s website, students who can’t take exams or who decide not to report scores “will not be disadvantaged in the selection process.”

After infection risk from the coronavirus forced the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the SAT, to cancel multiple test dates this spring, schools started announcing test-optional admissions policies. One hundred eighty have done so since the pandemic hit, according to Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a nonprofit that opposes the use of standardized tests in admissions. That brings the total number of test-optional schools to 1,244. (FairTest keeps a database of test-optional schools.)

It’s not clear whether these policies will survive the pandemic. But who knows?

Politico Morning Education reports:

DEVOS’ INTERIM FINAL RULE: The rule carries out DeVos’ policy, first announced in April, that is being challenged by two lawsuits for restricting which students can receive CARES Act (H.R. 748 ) grants. It will take effect immediately after publication in the Federal Register, which the department said would happen on June 15.

— DeVos said in a statement that the rule was aimed at eliminating any “uncertainty” for colleges about how they must distribute the funds, while carrying out the department’s “responsibility to taxpayers to administer the CARES Act faithfully.”

— Democratic lawmakers have pushed back, saying the rule violates the intent of the CARES Act. “As students across the country are struggling to make ends meet in the face of unprecedented financial challenges, Secretary DeVos’ efforts to deny some much-needed aid is cruel,” said Senate HELP ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “These extreme eligibility requirements will not only harm students, but they are also contrary to Congressional intent.” Read more from Michael Stratford.

TRUMP TO CONGRESS: ENACT SCHOOL CHOICE: President Donald Trump on Thursday said he is renewing his call on Congress to “finally enact school choice now.” During his State of the Union Address earlier this year, Trump promoted his administration’s proposal to create a new $5 billion federal tax credit to expand school choice. The Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, introduced in the House as H.R. 1434 (116) and the Senate as S. 634 (116), has no Democratic cosponsors in either chamber. “School choice is a big deal,” he told his audience during a “Transition to Greatness” roundtable in Texas.

— Trump said unions and “others” are against school choice for the wrong reasons. “Access to education is the civil rights issue of our time,” he said, adding that he has heard that for “the last, I would say year, but it really is.” He said, “And it creates competition and other schools fight harder because all of a sudden they say, ‘Wow, we’re losing it, we have to fight hard.’”

— DeVos tweeted a video clip of Trump’s statement and wrote, “Education is the pathway to a stronger tomorrow and a stronger America for all. Thankful for @realdonaldtrump’s unwavering commitment to ALL our nation’s students and their success.