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Screen College Students for COVID Every 2 Days, Researchers Advise  

Parents and students arrive in their vehicles for health screenings and temperature checks before moving belongings into residence halls at West Virginia State University campus Friday, July 31, 2020.
Parents and students arrive in their vehicles for health screenings and temperature checks before moving belongings into residence halls at West Virginia State University campus Friday, July 31, 2020.

U.S.-based colleges and universities continue to struggle with how they will receive students while containing the spread of COVID-19.

Nearly 40% of schools say they will bring students back to campus, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which has compiled a database of college and university responses to COVID since the spring.

Even at schools where classes are 100% online, many students are living off-campus and taking online courses rather than remaining at home with their parents.

FILE - A student takes classes online with his companions using the Zoom app at home.
FILE - A student takes classes online with his companions using the Zoom app at home.

Researchers say schools would have to test their students every two days for COVID-19 to ensure their health and safety, and screening after symptoms emerge won’t control the spread, according to a study published July 31.

“We believe that there is a safe way for students to return to college in fall 2020,” the study authors wrote in JAMA Network, the publishing site of the Journal of the American Medical Association, on July 31.

“Screening every two days using a rapid, inexpensive, and even poorly sensitive test, coupled with strict interventions ... was estimated to yield a modest number of containable infections and to be cost-effective,” the authors wrote.

Another study by Cornell University in upstate New York suggested if students were tested every five days, that population would be safer in their campus bubble than the online student population, which would freely circulate where they reside.

But not every school is equipped to conduct COVID-19 testing at that pace because of staffing and cost.

At Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, the school community “must unilaterally share the responsibility of taking the necessary steps to minimize the risk of COVID-19 infections throughout our campuses.” Students will take a survey, and “may be required to be tested for the SARS-CoV-2 infection (COVID-19), depending on their survey responses. Regardless of survey results, any student may request and be tested for COVID-19.”

“Symptom-based screening alone was not sufficient to contain an outbreak,” the study authors wrote.

COVID-19 “can be transmitted by highly infectious but asymptomatic ‘silent spreaders,’” lead study author A. David Paltiel, Ph.D., of the Yale School of Public Health, described to VOA.

“It simply isn’t possible to move swiftly enough to contain an outbreak using nothing more than symptom-based monitoring. You can’t play catch-up with this virus,” Paltiel wrote.

“A school that tests and responds only when symptoms have been observed is like a fire department that responds only to calls when the house is already known to have burnt to the ground.”

At the State University of New York (SUNY) system, students are required to produce negative test results that were taken within 14 days before their arrival back to campus. The university asks them to quarantine between the test and receiving results, according to SUNY’s website.

“If you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or a temperature that is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius, you will be directed to contact Student Health Services for an evaluation and a determination if you need to have a COVID-19 PCR test,” said the letter to students sent by Rick Gatteau, Stony Brook’s vice president for student affairs.

This, again, may be insufficient, the researchers said.

“Many schools are considering the option of carefully monitoring students for the symptoms of COVID-19 and using signs of illness to trigger isolation, contact tracing, and quarantine. We explored thousands of scenarios and failed to find even one plausible circumstance under which this strategy would be sufficient to contain an outbreak,” he wrote VOA.

“This sets a very high bar — logistically, financially, and behaviorally — that may be beyond the reach of many university administrators and the students in their care.”

FILE - People walk on the Stanford University campus beneath Hoover Tower in Stanford, Calif., March 14, 2019.
FILE - People walk on the Stanford University campus beneath Hoover Tower in Stanford, Calif., March 14, 2019.

At private universities like Stanford University in California, which has a $27.7 billion endowment, students will be tested for free.

“Each student will be tested twice: Once on approximately days 0-2 upon arrival, and then again on days 5-7 of their residence within Stanford housing. The tests will come at no cost to students,” according to the university’s COVID-19 FAQ’s page.

At Columbia University in New York City, all students, faculty and staff returning to campus will be required to take a COVID-19 test, they stated on their website.

“Students who test positive through the university testing program will be referred for contact tracing and will be required to isolate in designated on-campus rooms or in their off-campus residences until released by Yale Health,” Yale University stated on its webpage. “Medical monitoring and advice will be provided by Yale Health during isolation.”

FILE - Old Campus at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., Nov. 28, 2012.
FILE - Old Campus at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., Nov. 28, 2012.

Other educators say it is a struggle to manage social behaviors among young college students that might thwart their efforts.

University of Connecticut Professor Sherry Pagoto in the allied health sciences department, with graduate student Laurie Groshon, conducted student focus groups about returning to campus.

“Every student we asked said that this is not realistic and will likely fail,” Pagoto tweeted.

“They pointed out that students are eager to see each other and will find a way to do so when they arrive on campus. They said that students who live one to two hours away will try to find a way to go home,” she tweeted. “They said off campus students will likely find their way on campus.”

Dr. Ravina Kullar, an infectious disease expert, backed up the students’ feedback.

“Preventing infection requires everyone to abide by strict infection control measures, including mask-wearing, hand hygiene, and social distancing on campus,” Kullar told VOA.

Colleges have a responsibility to supply students with adequate screening, masks and hand hygiene supplies, Kullar said, but success lies in the hands of the students and staff in abiding by strict COVID-guidance and not having mass social gatherings.

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Americans' confidence in higher education falls, poll shows

FILE - A passer-by walks through a gate to the Harvard University campus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jan. 2, 2024.
FILE - A passer-by walks through a gate to the Harvard University campus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jan. 2, 2024.

Confidence in higher education among Americans is declining, according to a recent poll that found 36% of adults expressed a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in higher education, down from 57% in 2015.

The Gallup and the Lumina Foundation poll also revealed that more than two-thirds (68%) of adults feel the U.S. higher education system is heading in the “wrong direction” vs. 31% of those respondents saying it is going in the “right direction.”

The poll, conducted June 3-23, surveyed 1,005 Americans aged 18 and older.

Declining enrollment mirrors concerns voiced by some Americans about colleges focusing on political agendas, neglecting relevant skills and being overly expensive.

Nathan Wyand, a software engineer in Charlottesville, Virginia, told VOA News he chose not to attend college due to high costs and the challenging curriculum.

“The mode of learning was very stressful. Every month and a half, I would break down in tears,” Wyand said, adding, “I didn’t want to deal with the debt and lack of freedom in choosing what to learn.”

Post-high school, Wyand said he explored different jobs before pursuing software development through a 10-month data science bootcamp at Flatiron School in New York.

“I took online courses at Flatiron, learning about software development. In my current role, I have practical experience, though less theoretical knowledge than peers with computer science degrees,” Wyand noted.

Wyand valued freedom in learning over being told what to learn in a structured classroom.

“I didn't want other people to tell me what I was going to learn, I was tired of that and ready to take charge of my education,” he said.

While costs influenced Wyand’s decision against college, he advises against dismissing it solely due to expenses.

“Don’t avoid college because you’re lazy or because it’s expensive. Avoid college if you feel that there is something better or more interesting to you that you can pursue instead. It’s important to have an objective,” he said.

The survey conducted last month reaffirms that 36% of adults maintain strong confidence in higher education, unchanged from the previous year.

“At a time where the U.S. needs more skilled Americans to fulfill our labor market needs of today and tomorrow it is concerning to see that they are losing confidence that higher education can deliver what they need,” Courtney Brown, vice president at Lumina, an education nonprofit, told VOA News.

Researchers are concerned by fewer Americans expressing “some” confidence and more reporting of “very little” or “none.”

“This year’s findings show a notable increase in those with little to no confidence, now at 32%, compared to 10% in 2015. This trend is alarming and must be reversed,” Brown said.

Brown stressed the need to address concerns about perceived political influences and lack of relevant skills in higher education.

“Society must tackle college costs directly. Many find college unaffordable, leading to crippling debt. I do believe higher ed can transform and ensure it meets the needs of students, but to do so we must pay attention to these data and address these concerns head on – the stakes of not doing so are far too great for individuals, communities and our nation,” Brown added.

John Pollock, a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago, told VOA he agrees with the poll’s findings.

“College is a business, not a guarantee for jobs or debt repayment. Many our age see multiple paths to success,” Pollock said. He added that networking opportunities are one value that colleges offer.

Of the roughly one-third of Americans who expressed a “great deal/quite a lot” of confidence in higher education, 27% said it is important for individuals and society to be educated.

Of the roughly one-third of Americans who said their confidence in higher education was “very little/none,” 41% cited colleges as being “too liberal,” or trying to “indoctrinate” or “brainwash” students as reasons for their replies.

Overall, 68% of respondents believe higher education is on the wrong track, contrasting with 31% who see it heading in the right direction.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

Report: US could have 2.8M international students in 10 years

FILE - Students walk on the campus of Boston College, April 29, 2024, in Boston.
FILE - Students walk on the campus of Boston College, April 29, 2024, in Boston.

The United States, which currently has 1,057,188 students from 210 countries, could have 2.8 million students by 2034, according to a report in India’s Free Press Journal.

The report says India is likely to make a significant contribution to the increase, along with China, Vietnam, Nigeria and Bangladesh. (June 2024)

Small group of colleges educates 20% of undergrads 

FILE - A cyclist crosses an intersection on the campus of Arizona State University on Sept. 1, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz.
FILE - A cyclist crosses an intersection on the campus of Arizona State University on Sept. 1, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz.

A group of just 102 public and private, four-year U.S. colleges and universities has an enrollment of 3.3 million students – about 1 in 5 of the nation’s undergraduates.

The Chronicle of Higher Education took a look at the institutions, their locations and their students. (June 2024)

After $1B gift, most Johns Hopkins medical students won't pay tuition

A sign stands in front of part of the Johns Hopkins Hospital complex, July 8, 2014, in Baltimore. Most medical students at Johns Hopkins University will no longer pay tuition thanks to a $1 billion gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
A sign stands in front of part of the Johns Hopkins Hospital complex, July 8, 2014, in Baltimore. Most medical students at Johns Hopkins University will no longer pay tuition thanks to a $1 billion gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Most medical students at Johns Hopkins University will no longer pay tuition thanks to a $1 billion gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies announced Monday.

Starting in the fall, the donation will cover full tuition for medical students from families earning less than $300,000. Living expenses and fees will be covered for students from families who earn up to $175,000.

Bloomberg Philanthropies said that currently almost two-thirds of all students seeking a doctor of medicine degree from Johns Hopkins qualify for financial aid, and 45% of the current class will also receive living expenses. The school estimates that graduates' average total loans will decrease from $104,000 currently to $60,279 by 2029.

The gift will also increase financial aid for students at the university's schools of nursing, public health, and other graduate schools.

"By reducing the financial barriers to these essential fields, we can free more students to pursue careers they're passionate about – and enable them to serve more of the families and communities who need them the most," Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP, said in a statement on Monday. Bloomberg received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 1964.

FILE - Former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg speaks during the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit in New York, Sept. 19, 2023.
FILE - Former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg speaks during the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit in New York, Sept. 19, 2023.

The gift will go to John Hopkins' endowment and every penny will go directly to students, said Ron Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University.

"Mike has really been moved by the challenges that the professions confronted during the course of the pandemic and the heroic efforts they've made to protecting and providing care to American citizens during the pandemic," Daniels said in an interview. "I think he simply wanted to recognize the importance of these fields and provide this support to ensure that the best and brightest could attend medical school and the school of nursing and public health."

Bloomberg Philanthropies previously gifted $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins in 2018 to ensure that undergraduate students are accepted regardless of their family's income.

Johns Hopkins will be the latest medical school to offer free tuition to most or all of their medical students.

In February Ruth Gottesman, a former professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the widow of a Wall Street investor, announced that she was donating $1 billion to the school. The gift meant that four-year students immediately received free tuition and all other students will be offered free tuition in the fall.

In 2018, Kenneth and Elaine Langone gave $100 million to the NYU Grossman School of Medicine to make tuition free for all current and future medical students through an endowment fund. The couple gave a second gift of $200 million in 2023 to the NYU Grossman Long Island School of Medicine to guarantee free tuition for all medical students. Kenneth Langone is a co-founder of Home Depot.

Other medical schools, like UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, offer merit-based scholarships thanks to some $146 million in donations from the recording industry mogul, David Geffen. The Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine has also offered tuition-free education for medical students since 2008.

Candice Chen, associate professor, Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University, has researched the social missions of medical schools and had a strong reaction to the recent major gifts to John Hopkins, NYU and Albert Einstein.

"Collectively the medical schools right now, I hate to say this, but they're failing in terms of producing primary care, mental health specialists as well as the doctors who will work in and serve in rural and underserved communities," Chen said. She would have loved to see this gift go to Meharry Medical College in Tennessee, for example, which is a historically Black school that has produced many primary care doctors who work in communities that have shortages.

Bloomberg granted Meharry Medical College $34 million in 2020 as part of a $100 million gift he made to four Black medical schools to help reduce the debt of their medical students for four years.

There have been only a handful of previous $1 billion donations to universities in the U.S., most coming in the past several years.

In 2022, the venture capitalist John Doerr and his wife, Ann, gave $1.1 billion to Stanford University for a new school focusing on climate change.

The small liberal arts school McPherson College has received two matching pledges since 2022 from an anonymous donor totaling $1 billion. The school, which has around 800 enrolled students, has a program for automotive restoration and is located 57 miles north of Wichita, Kansas.

Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, gave $3 billion to charities in 2023, making him one of the largest donors, according to research by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Fewer job opportunities for computer science majors 

FILE - Students walk out of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.
FILE - Students walk out of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Recent computer science majors are finding entry-level jobs harder to come by, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper found that tech companies are scaling back on hiring and turning more attention to artificial intelligence. (May 2024)

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