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US Universities Struggle to Reimburse Fees as Campuses Close

FILE - A student carries a box to her dorm at Harvard University, after the school said it would move to virtual instruction for graduate and undergraduate classes, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 10, 2020.
FILE - A student carries a box to her dorm at Harvard University, after the school said it would move to virtual instruction for graduate and undergraduate classes, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 10, 2020.

The priority for most university students in the United States is clear: to move their belongings off campus as quickly as possible and set up to take classes online.

As campuses and their satellites abroad close — many of them incrementally — students and parents are wondering how to pay for this rapid shift in learning.

"They're being very intentionally vague with their emails, because we can tell they don't have much figured out themselves," Lucia Macchi, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, told VOA.

While we spoke, Macchi, who had been staying in Florida with her family over the spring break holiday, was on her way back to her dorm room at the University of Pennsylvania to gather her belongings — especially materials she would need to continue her classes remotely.

But while the University of Pennsylvania, like most schools across the country, is shutting down to quell the spread of the coronavirus, students say the policy on reimbursement for room and board is still unclear.

FILE - Princeton University students pack their rooms to leave after the institution shutdown campus with plans to continue instruction online due to COVID-19, in Princeton, N.J., March 14, 2020.
FILE - Princeton University students pack their rooms to leave after the institution shutdown campus with plans to continue instruction online due to COVID-19, in Princeton, N.J., March 14, 2020.

"They said that they could have a partial reimbursement or credit applied to next year," Macchi said. "They're not sure what exactly their programs are going to look like."

"But it won't be automatic," she said. "It will be something that the students have to be proactive about."

Room and board costs are not the only fees students and parents worry about losing. Besides meal plans, on-campus jobs, and campus activities fees, students also bear the financial burden of storing their items and buying expensive last-minute tickets to go home.

A glance at many university websites about coronavirus shows a number of plans for reimbursements of costs.

American University in Washington, D.C., has detailed its plans to financially assist students.

"Students do not need to apply for refunds. Student accounts will automatically produce an ACH refund to all students with banking information on file," the school's website reads, under a list of which costs will be refunded.

Many students trying to evacuate less-organized universities on short notice say they don't have time to wait in line at the financial aid office to have all their questions answered.

"Going into the financial aid office itself is a very time-consuming and exhausting thing for students to consider right now," Jordan Barton, class of 2023 at Harvard University in Massachusetts, told VOA.

FILE - Lisa Wymore, a professor of dance, theater and performances studies at University of California, Berkeley leads warm-ups for an online course in Berkeley, California, March 12, 2020.
FILE - Lisa Wymore, a professor of dance, theater and performances studies at University of California, Berkeley leads warm-ups for an online course in Berkeley, California, March 12, 2020.

Harvard said it will pro-rate room and board costs for students and apply a $200 credit for storage or travel.

But for students like Barton, who has to purchase a last-minute ticket to Middleton, Texas, $200 won't be enough. He says it's not clear whether students like him will see more of a reimbursement.

"I hope I can shoot an email here in a few days and see if I can get any reimbursement because otherwise it's going to be significantly difficult to have stable income over the course of the next few months," Barton added.

Parent groups on Facebook are sharing advice about how to apply for reimbursements through university websites.

Aside from all the costs and potential reimbursements, college students across the U.S. have taken to social media to remind universities that there are numerous barriers to simply shifting classes online.

"Not every college student has broadband at home. Not every college student can eat without the meal plan/work study," Em Ballou, a junior at Middlebury College in Vermont, wrote on Twitter.

"Coming to college is a source of humongous economic and housing stability for several months out of the year. Going home...puts an enormous strain on our families," Barton said.

Barton is still unsure how his work-study job will be affected at Harvard and is concerned about the burden he will place on his father, a single parent of two, without an additional income.

Some students have noted that online classes generally cost less than in-person ones. A petition started by a student from Indiana's Purdue University to reimburse tuition costs as well as room and board fees has more than 600 signatures.

Of course, in a few rare cases, students are praising their school's quick handling of the situation.

"Gotta say im super impressed with the way @DavidsonCollege is handling this situation," Ashly, class of 2022, wrote on Twitter, detailing that the North Carolina school which serves under 2,000 students is ensuring full pay for work-study students, providing laptops, free storage units, and airport shuttles among other amenities.

In most cases, U.S. universities and colleges followed similar trajectories, first announcing they would move classes online but that campus facilities would remain open, and then either all at once or through a rapid series of announcements, finally deciding the campuses would close entirely.

In the California Bay Area, six counties have issued a shelter-in-place order, meaning that students on campus are encouraged to remain in their dorms as opposed to moving out, even though the University of California, Berkeley has said all instruction will be remote for the rest of the semester.

Still, those choosing to move off campus for the rest of the semester are able to apply for a pro-rated refund of their room and board costs.

How quickly and efficiently colleges and universities will be able to deliver on promises of reimbursement is yet to be seen.

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Iowa’s Clark Becomes NCAA Division-I All-Time Leading Scorer for Men’s and Women’s Basketball

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) takes a free throw against Ohio State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Iowa City, Iowa, March 3, 2024.
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) takes a free throw against Ohio State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Iowa City, Iowa, March 3, 2024.

Iowa star Caitlin Clark became the all-time NCAA Division I scoring leader on Sunday, breaking the late Pete Maravich's 54-year-old record when she made two free throws after a technical foul was called in the No. 6 Hawkeyes' game against No. 2 Ohio State.

Clark entered the game in Iowa City needing 18 points to pass Maravich's total of 3,667, amassed in just 83 games over three seasons at LSU (1967-70).

Maravich's record fell four days after Clark broke Lynette Woodard's major college women's record with 33 points against Minnesota on Wednesday.

Clark's record-setting points Sunday came in improbable fashion. Best-known for her long 3-point shots, she instead went past Maravich after Ohio State was called for a technical foul with less than a second to go in the first half.

Clark swished both free throws to run her career total to 3,668 points; she had no immediate reaction after the second shot went through, as if it hadn't sunk in yet.

Asked in a television interview at halftime if she was aware of the record when she stepped to the line, Clark said, "Not really. When they announced it and everybody screamed, that's when I knew."

Clark got off to a slow start. Her first shot was a 3-pointer that bounced off the rim. She missed a layup and from deep on the right wing before making a 3 from the left side for her first basket.

After starting 2 for 7, she made 3 of her next 4 shots — including three straight 3-pointers, each deeper than the previous.

Woodard was among the attendees at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to help Clark celebrate senior day. Also on hand were basketball great Maya Moore, who was Clark's favorite player, and Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan.

On Thursday, Clark announced she would enter the 2024 WNBA draft and skip the fifth year of eligibility available to athletes who competed during the COVID-19 pandemic. She is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Indiana Fever, and the WNBA already is seeing a rise in ticket sales.

Logitix, which researches prices on ticket resale platforms, reported an average sale price of $598 for a ticket to this game purchased since Feb. 1.

"Listen, this is the greatest ticket on the planet right now," Woodard said in an interview with ESPN before the game. "Hey, I'm going to enjoy this right now."

Clark is all but assured of one or two more appearances at the arena in Iowa City after Sunday. Iowa is projected to be a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament, meaning it would be at home for the first two rounds.

Pearl Moore of Francis Marion owns the overall women's record with 4,061 points from 1975-79 at the small-college level in the AIAW. Moore had 177 points at Anderson Junior College before enrolling at Francis Marion.

Clark was 393 behind Moore as of halftime Sunday, and she has only three to 10 more games left in an Iowa uniform depending on how far the Hawkeyes advance in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

The fall of Maravich's record will be subject to scrutiny.

Maravich's all-time scoring mark is one of the more remarkable in sports history. There was no shot clock or 3-point line in his era. The 3-point line was adopted in 1986.

Maravich averaged 44.2 points per game. He scored more than 60 in a game four times, topping out at 69 against Alabama on Feb. 7, 1970.

Clark averages 28.3 points for her career and was playing in her 130th game Sunday. Her career-best output was 49 points against Michigan on Feb. 15, when she passed Kelsey Plum as the NCAA women's Division I career scoring leader.

Clark has 54 games with at least 30 points, the most of any player in men's or women's college basketball over the last 25 years. She has six triple-doubles this season and 17 in her career.

"What Caitlin's done has been amazing. She's a fantastic player, great for the women's game and basketball in general," Maravich's eldest son, Jaeson, told The Associated Press last week.

Number of US Doctoral Degrees at All-Time High

FILE - Graduation ceremonies for University of North Carolina Wilmington are shown in this 2014 file photo.
FILE - Graduation ceremonies for University of North Carolina Wilmington are shown in this 2014 file photo.

The number of doctoral degrees awarded by colleges and universities in the United States is at an all-time high, following a drop during the pandemic.

Forbes reports the jump between 2021 and 2022 was the largest one-year increase recorded since 1970. (February 2024)

US Embassy in Ghana Expands Outreach, Invites More Ghanaians to Study in America

US Embassy in Ghana Expands Outreach, Invites More Ghanaians to Study in America
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In the past academic year, U.S. colleges and universities saw a nearly 32 percent increase in Ghanaian students, making Ghana one of the top 25 countries in the world for sending students to the United States. To accommodate the growing interest, the U.S. Embassy in Ghana has opened a new resource center for young people considering an American education. Senanu Tord reports from Kumasi, Ghana.

How Are Colleges Using Generative AI?

FILE PHOTO: Educators are using tools such as ChatGPT to help students learn.
FILE PHOTO: Educators are using tools such as ChatGPT to help students learn.

Professors are using tools such as ChatGPT to provide feedback, grade assignments, prepare slide decks and more.

Ashley Mowreader reports on a Tyton Partners survey for Inside Higher Ed. (February 2023)

US Schools Wrestle with Cellphones in Classrooms

Kelli Anderson takes attendance from the rear of her Language Arts 9 class at Delta High School, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in Delta, Utah. At the rural Utah school, there is a strict policy requiring students to check their phones at the door when entering every class.
Kelli Anderson takes attendance from the rear of her Language Arts 9 class at Delta High School, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in Delta, Utah. At the rural Utah school, there is a strict policy requiring students to check their phones at the door when entering every class.

In California, a high school teacher complains that students watch Netflix on their phones during class. In Maryland, a chemistry teacher says students use gambling apps to place bets during the school day.

Around the country, educators say students routinely send Snapchat messages in class, listen to music and shop online, among countless other examples of how smartphones distract from teaching and learning.

The hold that phones have on adolescents in America today is well-documented, but teachers say parents are often not aware to what extent students use them inside the classroom. And increasingly, educators and experts are speaking with one voice on the question of how to handle it: Ban phones during classes.

"Students used to have an understanding that you aren't supposed to be on your phone in class. Those days are gone," said James Granger, who requires students in his science classes at a Los Angeles-area high school to place their phones in "a cellphone cubby" with numbered slots. "The only solution that works is to physically remove the cellphone from the student."

Most schools already have rules regulating student phone use, but they are enforced sporadically. A growing number of leaders at the state and federal levels have begun endorsing school cellphone bans and suggesting new ways to curb access to the devices.

The latest state intervention came in Utah, where Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, last month urged all school districts and the state Board of Education to remove cellphones from classrooms. He cited studies that show learning improves, distractions are decreased and students are more likely to talk to each other if phones are taken away.

A ninth grader places his cellphone into a phone holder as he enters class Feb. 23, 2024, in Delta, Utah. Each classroom has a cellphone storage unit that looks like an over-the-door shoe bag with three dozen smartphone-sized slots.
A ninth grader places his cellphone into a phone holder as he enters class Feb. 23, 2024, in Delta, Utah. Each classroom has a cellphone storage unit that looks like an over-the-door shoe bag with three dozen smartphone-sized slots.

"We just need a space for six or seven hours a day where kids are not tethered to these devices," Cox told reporters this month. He said his initiative, which is not binding, is part of a legislative push to protect kids in Utah from the harms of social media.

Last year, Florida became the first state to crack down on phones in school. A law that took effect in July requires all Florida public schools to ban student cellphone use during class time and block access to social media on district Wi-Fi. Some districts, including Orange County Public Schools, went further and banned phones the entire school day.

Oklahoma, Vermont and Kansas have also recently introduced what is becoming known as "phone-free schools" legislation.

And two U.S. senators — Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, and Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat — introduced legislation in December that would require a federal study on the effects of cellphone use in schools on students' mental health and academic performance. Theirs is one of several bipartisan alliances calling for stiffer rules for social media companies and greater online safety for kids.

Nationally, 77% of U.S. schools say they prohibit cellphones at school for non-academic use, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

But that number is misleading. It does not mean students are following those bans or all those schools are enforcing them.

Just ask teachers.

"Cellphone use is out of control. By that, I mean that I cannot control it, even in my own classroom," said Patrick Truman, who teaches at a Maryland high school that forbids student use of cellphones during class. It is up to each teacher to enforce the policy, so Truman bought a 36-slot caddy for storing student phones. Still, every day, students hide phones in their laps or under books as they play video games and check social media.

Tired of being the phone police, he has come to a reluctant conclusion: "Students who are on their phones are at least quiet. They are not a behavior issue."

A study last year from Common Sense Media found that 97% of kids use their phones during school hours, and that kids say school cellphone policies vary — often from one classroom to another — and aren't always enforced.

For a school cellphone ban to work, educators and experts say the school administration must be the one to enforce it and not leave that task to teachers. The Phone-Free Schools Movement, an advocacy group formed last year by concerned mothers, says policies that allow students to keep phones in their backpacks, as many schools do, are ineffective.

"If the bookbag is on the floor next to them, it's buzzing and distracting, and they have the temptation to want to check it," said Kim Whitman, a co-founder of the group, which advises schools to require phones be turned off and locked away all day.

Some students say such policies take away their autonomy and cut off their main mode of communication with family and friends. Pushback also has come from parents who fear being cut off from their kids if there is a school emergency. Whitman advises schools to make exceptions for students with special educational and medical needs, and to inform parents on expert guidance that phones can be a dangerous distraction for students during an emergency.

Jaden Willoughey, 14, shares the concern about being out of contact with his parents if there's a crisis. But he also sees the upsides of turning in his phone at school.

At Delta High School in rural Utah, where Jaden is a freshman, students are required to check their phones at the door when entering every class. Each of the school's 30 or so classrooms has a cellphone storage unit that looks like an over-the-door shoe bag with three dozen smartphone-sized slots.

"It helps you focus on your work, and it's easier to pay attention in class," Jaden said.

A classmate, Mackenzie Stanworth, 14, said it would be hard to ignore her phone if it was within reach. It's a relief, she said, to "take a break from the screen and the social life on your phone and actually talk to people in person."

It took a few years to tweak the cellphone policy and find a system that worked, said Jared Christensen, the school's vice principal.

"At first it was a battle. But it has been so worth it," he said. "Students are more attentive and engaged during class time. Teachers are able to teach without competing with cellphones. And student learning has increased," he said, citing test scores that are at or above state averages for the first time in years. "I can't definitively say it's because of this policy. But I know it's helping."

The next battle will be against earbuds and smartwatches, he said. Even with phones stashed in pouches, students get caught listening to music on air pods hidden under their hair or hoodies. "We haven't included earbuds in our policy yet. But we're almost there."

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