Higher education leaders spoke about COVID-19’s impact on American colleges and universities in a virtual hearing held by the U.S. House Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee on Tuesday.
The majority of the hearing centered around the need for additional federal funding to ensure colleges are able to continue providing high quality education. Some speakers emphasized the importance of prioritizing funding for institutions that serve underrepresented populations — including community colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, and tribal colleges — and have struggled financially since the Great Recession in 2008.
Shaun Harper, president of the American Educational Research Association, spoke about the need for colleges and universities to take racial inequities into consideration when planning to reopen their campuses. Some of these concerns include:
- Prioritizing federal aid toward safety equipment for essential employees, such as custodians and food service workers, who tend to be people of color
- Preventing discrimination and violence against Asian Americans and Asian immigrants
- Providing trauma and grief support for students and employees of color who are disproportionately affected by the virus and thus more likely to have experienced loss in their communities
- Addressing the fact that Black men make up the majority of intercollegiate football and basketball teams, and participation in these contact sports places them at higher risk for infection
- Developing strategies and investments that close the digital divide for students who lack access to the internet
There was also discussion on the recent ICE announcement that international students must take in-person classes or face deportation. Harper labeled this policy as being “xenophobic and Sinophobic” and detrimental to American students’ ability to interact and learn from their global peers.
Overall, the higher education leaders who testified in the hearing agreed that reopening plans must prioritize the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff. Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors University, and Timothy P. White, chancellor of the California State University system, discussed how institutions can transition to online-only learning. The president of Minneapolis College, Sharon J. Pierce, testified that in-person learning environments are still valuable, as they allow low-income and underrepresented students to access food, housing, childcare services, and other basic needs.
The campus administrators who participated in the hearing also agreed that the best solution for moving forward is to implement more advanced COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, which they argued will only be possible through increased federal support.