Higher Ed in the News: 1/19

Photo by Max Böttinger on Unsplash.

This week, in the 2021 return of Higher Ed in the News, we cover three stories on: the education technology industry, the coronavirus relief bill, and a study on campuses that opened in the fall of 2020.

Of course, recent anti-democratic violence here in Washington, D.C., coupled with ongoing political tension and the pandemic, has made this a sad and frustrating time in this country. CNDLS has a collection of resources for instructors on how to teach through moments like this, including some of our articles from around the election that are also relevant for this situation. We hope everyone stays safe, connects with their loved ones, and keeps the health of this country in their thoughts over what could well be a challenging week.


Newly-passed relief package finds colleges and students in dire need

While government funding from the CARES Act did provide a much-needed $14 billion back in March, the coronavirus pandemic raged on and a new relief bill has been desperately needed. According to a recent piece by Higher Ed Dive, some help is on its way with the passing of a $900 billion relief package that includes $23 billion for institutes of higher learning. A separate $1.4 trillion deal to fund the government will benefit colleges and universities as well.

Out of the $23 billion, $20 billion will go to non-profit colleges and $1.7 billion will be divided between HBCUs, Hispanic-Serving Institutions and tribal schools. The remaining $113 million will be set aside to help schools fulfill their “unmet needs.” 

The additional government funding will help college students and their families by removing numerous questions from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and increasing the maximum amount that they can receive through a Pell Grant by $150.


EdTech funding hits record levels

Last year, “U.S. education technology startups raised over $2.2 billion in venture and private equity capital across 130 deals,” according to data from EdSurge. This represents an increase of almost 30 percent from the $1.7 billion invested in 2019 across 105 deals.

Ed Surge managing editor Tony Wan noted that while investment in ed tech, including online learning platforms like Coursera or institutional platforms such as Canvas, was already on the rise. 2020 was unique because it saw major names in investing as well as general funds take a different approach to this market. 

For all the promises that tech would disrupt education as it has other fields and industries, nothing was as disruptive as the pandemic that sent students and professors home to conduct classes over Zoom. Significant investments raised by companies such as Coursera, Udemy and Lambda School portend an increase in the level of competition for institutions of Higher Ed.


The link between open campuses and COVID-19

A recent study examined the coronavirus-related impact that college campus reopenings in the fall of 2020 had on surrounding communities. The results are startling, as Natalie Schwartz of Education Dive writes.

Out of the 30 schools included in the report, 14 experienced sudden upticks in cases during the first two weeks of instruction and even more had their worst period of COVID-19 infection during the initial eight weeks of the school year. As a result, local areas and residents were put at risk, as 17 communities experienced deadly spikes in cases following campus outbreaks. The Indiana county where Notre Dame University has its main campus was forced to combat “superspreading-like effects” that stemmed from the school’s decision to welcome students back to South Bend in early-fall.

When these COVID-19 outbreaks hit their campuses, many affluent colleges and universities used their vast resources to pivot to remote-learning within days and send students home until further notice. While this got them through the first semester, local communities were left to fight off the deadly virus with limited resources compared to the schools that contributed to their problems.