April 2020 newsletter
Explore how the U.S. Census counts college students and how faculty at Carleton College, the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University have modified their classes for distance learning. Then discover how Gustavus Adolphus College brought study aboard students home despite borders closed due to COVID -19.
In a normal census year, collecting information on every college student is important and complex. With a public health crisis impacting every aspect of life, the census has become even more complicated. But ensuring that college students are fully counted remains a priority.
“It’s the mission of almost every college to train future citizens,” said Adrienne Falcón, higher education coordinator for the Minnesota Census 2020 and an associate professor at Metropolitan State University. “This is about doing just that — training and educating current and future citizens. This work around the census is not only fulfilling our national obligation and our institutional responsibility; it really gets to the core mission of higher education.”
Work to ensure there isn’t an undercount of college students has been underway, including through a statewide committee. Efforts include webinars to engage college staff about the importance of the census, colleges holding informational events for students and even a student social media campaign around why the census matters.
Colleges have a key role in reporting information for the students who live on campus — or would have been on campus, before COVID-19 hit. They also can help encourage students who live off-campus to ensure they’re counted. At Macalester College, work to ensure every student is counted started more than a year ago, according to Derek Johnson, civic leadership and outreach coordinator.
“Census participation directly relates to civic engagement, but we know that not all students are motivated to do what the government asks them to do,” Johnson said. “We created a Complete Count Committee and are collaborating with campus and community partners to get the census on the radar of students. . . . We’re lucky here at Mac to have very engaged students and in many cases students are leading the way on this. We know anything without the ownership and voice of students isn’t going to go very far.”
A complete count of college students is important given how the number of residents in a state gets used in different ways. There’s use in research, for example, which can motivate students who will rely on it as a tool, Johnson noted. And there are impacts tied to policy. “Census numbers are used to draw districts,” Falcón said. "And Minnesota is at a high risk of losing a congressional district —there is a potential political loss if college students don’t participate. There also is a potential fiscal loss; an estimated $2,800 per person per year gets allocated through the census. Over 10 years that is about $28,000.” And as both Falcón and Johnson noted, the census results also impact federal Pell Grants, which triggers student concerns.
COVID-19 has shifted and complicated the census topic on almost every campus. The questions about who gets counted, and where and how they get counted are compounded by this crisis. But as shared by the Census Bureau:
- College students living away from home while at school will be counted at school, even if they are temporarily elsewhere due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If a student was living on-campus prior to the COVID-19 response, they will be included in the colleges’ group reporting.
- If a student was living off-campus, the Census Bureau requests that they use their at-school off-campus address even if they have returned to a permanent residence due to COVID-19.
- Students who have returned from study away/study abroad by April 1 as well as those who did not go abroad due to COVID-19 should be counted at the address where they reside on April 1.
- If college students are counted at home and on campus, that is ok because there is a process to deduplicate the results within the Census bureau so families do not need to worry about what they may have done with their forms.
Simply put, students are asked to fill out the census as if the COVID-19 response didn’t occur and the students are still living in their college housing. Students or families with questions can visit MN 2020 Census college student web page.
By Tom Lancaster
Higher education across the country has gone to distance learning and Minnesota Private Colleges are no exception.
“With such a quick turn around for faculty and students, things are going fairly well,” said Jennifer Schaefer, associate professor of biology and integrative science program chair at College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. “For some classes, things have changed but we’re trying to replicate the most meaningful aspects of each class while recognizing that the online format necessarily requires some changes and flexibility.”
Professors are pivoting, providing resources and lectures digitally. Some are keeping regular class times using digital meeting platforms, while others are creating a new normal with prerecorded lectures and creative solutions to assignments, Schaefer said.
For many the concerns are with students. “For some students, they were able to go home, have access to technology and have family support. For those students it’s going okay,” Schaefer said. “For other students it’s a really big struggle. They may not have had a place to go, or have to take care of family members; some are experiencing serious financial hardship.”
Private colleges pride themselves on small class sizes and excellent instruction delivered by professors, which often creates strong highly connected communities. These communities have allowed students and professors to transition imperfectly but resiliently.
“We’ll make it through this; we will teach and students will learn. And what will help us do that is the strength of the community,” Schaefer said. “From students checking in on one another to IT stepping up with so many resources. The strong sense of community is what will get us through this.”
The strength of community was reiterated by Joan Ostrove, professor of psychology and director of the Jan Serie Center for Scholarship and Teaching at Macalester College. “We have a fine arts professor who was teaching oil painting this semester. The paints her students needed were at Mac, but the students weren’t,” Ostrove said. “The professor mailed each student a water color set, and pivoted to teaching them watercolor painting remotely. This is just one of many powerful stories of faculty commitment to our students.”
Looking ahead, plans for instruction during the fall semester remain uncertain, although private colleges clearly are eager to bring students back to campus. Though the goal is to be instructing in-person this fall, it’s important professors evaluate what is working now so they can be prepared if that is not the case.
When asked about how the change to distance learning this semester might affect how we teach in the future, Ostrove quipped, “I don’t think we’re in danger of changing the entire small liberal arts experience and doing everything online in future years. But I do think there are some things we learned this semester that can carry over. Professors have tried different technologies that are helping students engage in different ways and have developed new assignments that they will keep in future iterations of their courses. Just maybe we can take a few small positives out of all of this.”
By Tom Lancaster
Excerpted with permission from Gustavus Adolphus College. View original article.
Gracie Willaert had been awake for almost 36 hours when she finally broke down. Pent-up tension escaped one wracking sob at a time as she slumped against the bathroom wall. It was a tangled knot of emotions—sadness that her study away program had been cut short, gratitude for her Peruvian host family, uncertainty about the days to come, even guilt somehow, though she’d done nothing wrong. Most of all, she felt relieved.
As Willaert wiped away the tears, mind still racing, she didn’t think she’d be able to sleep. But even when the whole world is different, when it feels broken and unfamiliar in ways that you can’t quite explain, sometimes exhaustion wins.
It was Thursday, March 26. The Gustavus Adolphus College junior was home.
Ten weeks earlier Willaert was en route to Peru, where she would study at Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola alongside fellow Gustie Matt Payne through a Center for International Studies (CIS) Abroad program. It was her first trip out of the United States, and the days leading up to her departure had been a blur for the Spanish and international management major as she packed, said goodbye to family and friends, and prepared for the semester in the Andes.
“I was really excited but also pretty nervous. I don’t think I realized until then that I’d be away from home for such a long time,” Willaert recalls. “It didn’t feel real until I was on the plane.”
A Gustavus sophomore majoring in environmental studies and Spanish, Payne decided to study abroad relatively early in his college career because he wants to be on campus his junior and senior years as a member of the College’s cross country and track and field teams.
When they arrived in Cusco in mid-January, the Gusties met their host families. Willaert was with Nancy and her husband Oscar, along with a fellow study away student from Maryland. Payne and three other students from the United States were paired with Sandro, Tania, and their children, Joaquin and Gabby. Willaert and Payne went to orientation, met the other students in their CIS Abroad program, and quickly settled into a routine.
Classes were Monday through Thursday, with field learning experiences on Wednesday mornings that connected the students with the people of Cusco and the surrounding area.
“We helped with upkeep at an orphanage, painted at a women’s shelter, and did some soccer field maintenance in a low-income community,” Payne says. “I remember hearing about coronavirus in China the first week or two of the trip, but it didn’t seem like a big deal.”
“Coronavirus really came onto our radar midway through February,” Payne says. “We started to hear about college students in Europe and Asia who were being sent home. There were no cases in South America at that point, so things were still normal for us.”
“It started small—just a buzz on campus, seeing snippets on the news,” Willaert agrees. “Then everything went crazy the second week of March.”
On Thursday, March 12, Willaert went out to buy shampoo. People scurried frantically from aisle to aisle; the shelves quickly grew bare. The day before had seemed normal. For the first time, Willaert felt a twinge of panic.
When she got home, an email was waiting from Bryan Messerly, Interim Director of the Gustavus Center for International and Cultural Education (CICE). The U.S. Department of State had elevated the entire world to Global Health Level III advisory, triggering the College’s recall of Willaert, Payne, and a few dozen other Gusties from locations around the globe.
Payne called his parents, who had been visiting him in Peru and left the day before. “I guess I’ll see you sooner than we thought,” he told them.
Back on campus, College staff had been monitoring developments across the globe for weeks, tracking travel advisories and program alerts while talking regularly with students. Gustavus started the semester with 41 students studying around the world. By the time the College called everyone back on March 12, Gusties from southern Europe, South Korea, and Japan were already dealing with program cancellations and booking flights. A few were already home.
After Messerly sent his message to all the study away students, the next three days were a blur of tracking and verifying each student’s travel plans. With student wellbeing the College’s primary concern, the administration decided right away to provide support for additional travel expenses. Willaert and Payne had managed to book flights home for Wednesday, March 18. To the CICE team, it seemed like everything was on track for the Gusties in Peru.
“Nobody in the study away field wants to bring students home early because we know that these experiences abroad are transformative and mean so much to our students,” Messerly says. “But by the time the State Department announced an unprecedented worldwide Level III advisory, we knew that the only choice was to bring everyone home.”
For Willaert and Payne, the days after the announcement passed in a fog. . . . Willaert and Payne waited, confined to their host families’ homes. There wasn’t much to do besides paperwork. They filled out forms for the U.S. Embassy. Then the Peruvian government. Then a form for an airline that might be able to help. Then another.
“I was lucky to be with three other students, so at least we had each other to talk to,” Payne says. “And we were in a safe place with a family that was taking care of us.”
Messerly checked in by email daily and by phone almost as often.
“There was little that I or anyone at Gustavus could do to get Gracie and Matt out of Peru after the borders closed—only the Department of State working with the Peruvian government could clear the logjam,” Messerly recalls. “I wanted Matt and Gracie to know that we would be there for them as long as it took to get them home.”
By Friday, March 20, word had leaked out that Peru would further limit the number of flights in and out of the country. There was talk of a hard deadline, but it was unclear whether there would be enough flights for everyone who needed to leave.
Willaert and Payne and their families reached out to elected officials. Back home, the Gustie network lit up. A Gustavus administrator contacted State Representative Jeff Brand (19A), who started making calls. His colleague, Rep. Michelle Christensen (39B) got involved. In Washington D.C., a young alum’s phone chirped with a text message from campus; a staffer for Senator Amy Klobuchar, he made a connection by email. Senator Tina Smith’s office stepped in. After getting word about the Gusties, an aide for U.S. Representative Jim Hagedorn (MN-01) contacted Willaert directly.
On Monday, March 23, Willaert and Payne received an email from the U.S. Embassy. They were on the next flight out. The Gusties packed their bags. More bad news came on Tuesday. There was a bureaucratic tangle up somewhere along the line and the plane that was coming for them was refused clearance to enter Peruvian airspace. As the flight turned back, the Gusties learned they’d have to wait another day. Sit tight, the message instructed, wait for further details.
That night, still nothing in her inbox, Willaert fell into a fitful sleep. She awoke early on Wednesday to her host mother frantically knocking on her bedroom door. The email had finally come late the night before. It was time to go.
“We had to leave so fast that we barely had time to say goodbye,” Payne explains.
The Gusties got sunburns on the tarmac waiting for the plane. The flight was scheduled to go from Cusco to Lima to Miami.
Willaert remembers standing there, wondering if they were really leaving. “What if the border was closed? What if we got stranded somewhere else? I always felt safe with my host family in Cusco, but now we were on our own.”
When they landed in Miami and turned on their phones, the first message was from Messerly. Do you need anything, he asked, can I book hotel rooms for you? Willaert and Payne got into Miami late and their flight to Minneapolis was early. Tired of logistics and barely able to believe that they were back in the United States, they declined the offer. The Gusties stayed up all night in the airport talking about their experience.
They arrived in Minneapolis at noon on Thursday, March 26. It had been 10 days since Peru closed its borders.
By JJ Akin
Taking into account both education costs and 40 years of future earnings, the average return on investment for undergraduate students at our colleges is $1 million according to Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
St. Scholastica student selected for prestigious research opportunity
Megan Schiferl, a junior at The College of St. Scholastica, was one of only six undergraduate students in America chosen to work at the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland.
CSP approved for academic control of CU-Portland’s nursing program
The Oregon State Board of Nursing has approved the transfer of ownership of Concordia-Portland’s nursing education program under the academic control of Concordia University, St. Paul.
A good time for exercise
Hamline University professors encourage students to experience the physical, cognitive, emotional and immunological benefits of exercise between online classes.
Carleton names Eric Runestad vice president and treasurer
Runestad will begin his new position at Carleton College on July 1, succeeding longtime vice president and treasurer Fred Rogers.
SJU graduates on front line of COVID-19 pandemic fight in New York
Close friends Canh Tran, Garrison Pease and Tom Kaster were members of the Saint John’s University class of 2009.
Gustavus Women in Leadership Celebrates 10th annual conference
For a decade, Gustavus Adolphus College's Women in Leadership Conference has connected current students with powerful speakers and mentors who empower women.
The Playwrights' Center and Augsburg announce new education partnership
Through online courses, Augsburg University students will connect with peers nationwide and will be taught by leading professional playwrights who are actively working in the field.
Katies rank among top 5 in Midwest Economics Association research paper contest
St. Catherine University students Isabel Pastoor ’20 and Elizabeth Kula ’19 received honorable mentions for papers they wrote last fall in their Econometrics class taught by Professor Kristine West, PhD.
St. Olaf to offer engineering concentration
Beginning this fall, St. Olaf College will offer a new concentration in engineering studies.
COVID-19 updates and resources added to Council website
The page provides links to our colleges’ COVID-19 responses, updates from the Council and links to other relevant resources.
More private colleges go test optional
By mid-April, seven additional member institutions announced test-optional policies, in terms of admission policies no longer requiring students to submit ACT or SAT scores.
Minnesota Private College Week canceled, but online tours available
The annual June event has been canceled for 2020, but will return next year. Until campuses are open again for visitors, students and families can start exploring their options online.
Council graduation rate report now available
The graduation rate report shares comparisons to other sectors in Minnesota as well as nationwide averages. Our four-year graduation rate is the second highest in the nation, coming in just behind the graduation rate for nonprofit colleges and universities in Rhode Island.
Two private college alums honored with awards from Minnesota Campus Compact
State Rep. Samantha Vang (40B), Gustavus Adolphus College’ 16, and Jennifer Tacheny, College of Saint Benedict’ 95, were recognized with the new engaged campus Alumni Leadership Awards along with other new engaged campus award winners.
Private college recipients of the Minnesota Campus Compact President’s Award
A large crop of private college students, faculty, staff and partners were honored this year. Review the full list at the above link.
Colleges go test-optional after SAT, ACT are called off
National Public Radio, April 1, 2020
No caps, no gowns: For many in the class of 2020, commencement is called off
National Public Radio, April 1, 2020
College made them feel equal. The virus exposed how unequal their lives are.
The New York Times, April 4, 2020
The reality of COVID-19 is hitting teens especially hard
Wired, April 6, 2020
AP exams scheduled for May, IB exams canceled — and students left feeling torn
MinnPost, April 9, 2020
Emergency money for students arriving soon
Inside Higher Ed, April 10, 2020
You’re graduating in a pandemic. What’s next?
The Brookings Institution, April 23, 2020