Wednesday, May 20, 2020   
Teacher licensure requirements waived for MSU education students
The Mississippi Department of Education is temporarily waiving some requirements for students applying to enter Mississippi State University's teacher education and administration preparation programs, as well as waiving licensure exams for certification through December 31, 2021. The change is due to testing center closures across the state related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. "The College of Education is appreciative of the actions of the Mississippi Department of Education in temporarily suspending these requirements. Certainly, we are experiencing unique challenges due to COVID-19, and these actions assist us in helping address staffing needs in Mississippi public schools," said Richard Blackbourn, dean of MSU's College of Education. The Mississippi Department of Education has waivers that include both traditional (undergraduate) and non-traditional (graduate) teacher education programs and approved traditional or non-traditional educator or administrator preparation programs as defined by the Mississippi State Board of Education.
MDE teacher licensure requirements waived for current, prospective MSU education students
The Mississippi Department of Education is temporarily waiving some requirements for students applying to enter Mississippi State University's teacher education and administration preparation programs, as well as waiving licensure exams for certification through Dec. 31, 2021. The change is due to testing center closures across the state related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Mississippi Department of Education has waivers that include both traditional (undergraduate) and non-traditional (graduate) teacher education programs and approved traditional or non-traditional educator or administrator preparation programs as defined by the Mississippi State Board of Education. The licensure exams for the following programs at MSU have been waived: Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Special Education, Music Education, Physical Education, School Administration, School Counseling, School Psychology, Master of Arts in Teaching-Secondary, and Master of Arts in Teaching-Special Education.
MSU assistant research professor honored by national forage group
An agronomy expert at Mississippi State is a selection this year for a major national honor from the American Forage and Grassland Council. Assistant Research Professor Jesse Morrison received the professional organization's Early Career Award and accepted the recognition at the AFGC annual conference during the spring semester. The award honors an individual under the age of 40 who has made a significant contribution to the forage and grassland industry. A faculty member in MSU's Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, Morrison said he's especially excited about the accolade because of AFGC's commitment to striking a balance between producer profitability and environmental stewardship.
MSU-Meridian opens food pantry for students in need
Mississippi State University-Meridian is doing its part to help students in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. The college has opened a food pantry Bully's Pantry where students can pick up non-perishable foods and hygiene products. The pantry is temporarily set up in the Kahlmus Auditorium on the College Park Campus. Students can set up a time to pick up the items without entering the building. Terry Dale Cruse, associate vice president and head of campus said several students contacted him about the need for the pantry. Cruse said he reached out to the Starkville campus, which already had a pantry, to help establish the pantry in Meridian. The pantry is being funded through the student affairs office in Starkville and private donations. The school has also partnered with Extra Table in Hattiesburg to supply food for the pantry, Cruse said. Cruse hopes to make the pantry a permanent addition to the campus. "We plan to continue even after the pandemic is over," he said.
'It makes you be creative': Local businesses opening during pandemic face unique challenges
In November, a month before Hunter Bell graduated from culinary school at the Mississippi University for Women, he and his wife Hannah first discussed plans to buy a food truck. By January, they'd decided they would go through with the purchase. But in mid-March, when the Bells flew to Virginia to pick up the truck -- its interior and exterior already customized after consultations with designers -- the COVID-19 pandemic began to make its presence known in the U.S. Three days later, when the couple returned to Starkville amid major changes wrought by the virus, it was clear their business model wasn't going to work. Hoping to avoid spreading the virus through long lines, the Bells decided to make the newly opened Mom & Pop Food Truck + Catering a delivery-only business. The Bells aren't alone. Several other new businesses in Starkville and around the Golden Triangle have faced similar challenges. Chip Templeton, director of the Mississippi Small Business Development Center at Mississippi State University, said the impact of COVID-19 came as a shock for business owners around the area. "Mostly, it's just taken them by surprise, and they didn't account for a surprise like this because it's such a rare event," Templeton told The Dispatch. Templeton, whose office provides small business-related counseling for Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Noxubee, Clay, Webster, Monroe, Choctaw, Kemper, Montgomery and Lauderdale counties, said he's seen an increased volume of calls from people around the area who are unsure if starting a new business will be worth it.
2 dead in construction accident identified
Authorities have identified the two construction workers who died Tuesday in an accident at a multi-home development on South Montgomery Street in Starkville. Zachary Wayne Osbourn, 36, and William Kezzire, 19, both of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, were killed when a trench collapsed on them while they were laying pipe at the Valentine townhouses construction site at about 10 a.m. Starkville Fire Department Chief Charles Yarbrough said the two were about 10 to 12 feet deep in the ground when the collapse occurred. "In the 25 years I've been doing this, that's the second (trench collapse) I've ever seen," Yarbrough said. "When they happen, they're devastating." Yarbrough said Osbourn had already died by the time first responders arrived to the site. An Air Care helicopter airlifted Kezzire to North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, but he died en route. Both victims worked for Tuscaloosa-based construction company Southern Civil Contracting.
'Twilight Zone:' Casino closings hurt Mississippi county
Since mid-March, the wide roads leading to the gambling halls of Tunica County, Mississippi, have been devoid of cars. The bells of the slot machines and chatter from hopeful card players have gone silent. Hundreds of hotel rooms have been empty for two months, and thousands of people have lost their jobs, at least temporarily. As it has in so many other places around the world, the new coronavirus has dealt a crippling blow to an economy that relies heavily on revenue from more than a half-dozen casinos, all of which were shuttered to help stop the virus's spread. Even before the pandemic hit, the industry had been experiencing a slow, steady decline. The thousands of people who depend on the gambling industry -- dealers, cooks and cleaning staff, to name a few -- have been out of work and out of luck since the casinos closed.
Pearl River Resort won't re-open this week
Pearl River Resort and Bok Homa properties will not re-open this week, it was announced, although other Mississippi casinos will. "While we are aware that the Mississippi Gaming Commission is allowing casinos that it regulates to reopen Thursday for Memorial Day weekend, our Pearl River Resort and Bok Homa properties will not open this week," said William "Sonny" Johnson, President and CEO Pearl River Resort. "Because the safety and health of our associates and guests are of the utmost importance to us, we are not opening Pearl River Resort and Bok Homa at this time," Tribal Chief Cyrus Ben said. "To ensure our associates and guests return to the safest facility possible, a thorough reopening plan is in place that includes safety measures and additional equipment. We know our associates are ready to return to work and our wonderful guests are ready to come back to the Pearl River Resort and Bok Homa Casino experience they know and love. And we look forward to welcoming everyone back soon!"
Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association's Larry Gregory is ready for casinos to reopen
With casinos in Mississippi set to open this Thursday, Executive Director of the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association Larry Gregory recently joined The JT Show to talk about what casinos are doing in preparation and how this weekend is a perfect time to reopen. "This is a big day not only for our industry but for the state," Gregory said. "The good thing about opening this time of year is Memorial Day. We have several peak periods in the casino industry, and Memorial Day is certainly one of those days or weekends." All casinos that decide to reopen will be following the guidelines set forth by both Governor Tate Reeves and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Gregory. "The casinos, the way they used to look like, are not going to be the same," Gregory said. "You walk through, there is going to be plenty of signage to make sure you are adhering to the CDC guidelines. All the guests will adhere by checklists up on the wall, and all of our employees will have masks." Casinos have been closed since March 16, forcing about a $36 million loss in state revenue.
Vicksburg tourism itching to recover as casinos gradually reopen
Things are on a roll for the casinos in Vicksburg. This Thursday the Waterview Resort and Casino will be up and running again with precautionary measures being taken. With dozens of slot machines and gaming tables in proximity, COVID-19 concerns hit the gambling industry hard in Vicksburg. "We're all excited to get back open," Marketing Manager Alesia Shaw said. "We miss our customers and we can't wait to get things rolling again in here. We all lost revenue." Since March 16. the entire resort has sat empty. Sending 250 full time employees' home without pay. But as they return, Vicksburg tourism expects to prosper. "We depend on casinos for about 16% of our budget which is a $30 million budget," Mayor George Flaggs told us. The Mississippi Gaming Board visited the casino Tuesday afternoon and officially gave the Thursday opening plan a green light if specific social distancing and sanitation measures are followed.
Mississippi sets guidelines on restarting in-person worship
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday issued guidelines for churches and other places of worship to reopen for in-person services during the coronavirus pandemic, with an emphasis on keeping spaces clean and maintaining distance between people. The Republican governor never shut down in-person worship, saying he does not think the government has the power to do so. But he has strongly encouraged people to worship in their homes through online services or other methods. He said he thinks congregations will ease into the return of in-person services. Among the suggestions in the eight pages of guidelines: Have multiple services rather than a single service so people will have a chance to spread out in a sanctuary; encourage people to wear masks that cover the mouth and nose, even during worship; discourage hugging and handshakes; minimize the sharing of food and drinks; replace choirs with solo singers.
Gov. Tate Reeves releases reopening guidelines for churches, but urges them not to rush
Gov. Tate Reeves announced a series of social-distancing and cleaning guidelines Tuesday that will allow churchgoers to attend in-person services again over the coming weeks. But he warned that just because the guidelines are now in place, worship leaders should not rush to reopen as the coronavirus spreads. The governor said he would continue to worship at home himself, and would keep hosting Facebook Live prayer sessions on Sunday mornings, as he has for weeks. "The church is not a building," Reeves said. "We can honor our Lord and keep our neighbors safe. You don't need to rush back. We do want to provide a playbook for how to do it safely, when pastors determine the time is right." The church reopening guidelines are the latest in a series of reopening announcements and new guidelines -- including for restaurants, salons and gyms -- under Reeves' "safer-at-home" order in recent weeks. The order is set to expire Monday. He encouraged church leaders to wait another week or two -- "perhaps until June 1" -- before opening their doors.
$9M in highway contracts set from Mississippi lottery money
The Mississippi Transportation Commission says it has awarded nearly $9 million in pavement restoration contracts, using money generated by the state lottery that started selling tickets in November. By the end of April, the state had collected $47.2 million from the games, the Mississippi Lottery Corporation said Tuesday. The April collections were $9.7 million. For the first 10 years, the first $80 million a year from lottery revenue goes to infrastructure, with the rest going to education. After the 10-year period is over, the first $80 million will go to the state's general fund with the rest continuing to go to education.
Nonprofit officials spent $400,000 in welfare dollars to lobby state government. Public education funding flowed their way.
Prominent special education figure Nancy New spent hundreds of thousands of welfare dollars her nonprofit had received from the state to cull favor and lobby state government for her private school interests, according to interviews and documents. The nonprofit, at the center of what is now called the largest alleged public embezzlement scheme in state history, spent at least $400,000 in welfare funds to "maintain governmental revenue streams or to lobby on behalf of their organization" from 2017 to 2019, the state auditor reported. In those three years, she and her son's separate private school companies quietly received nearly $1.3 million from direct legislative appropriations in the public education budget. But as is the case with many of the purchases her nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center made, investigators have found, little public documentation exists to show what influence their efforts may have had.
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith co-sponsors bipartisan $500 billion SMART Act
COVID-19 relief efforts continue in Washington D.C. and Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith is a leading sponsor of a bipartisan bill that would allow state and local governments to use federal funding to make up for lost revenue in the midst of the pandemic. Hyde-Smith is an original cosponsor of the State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Act. According to the Senator, the measure would provide $500 billion to state, local, and tribal governments to offset significant revenue losses with the flexibility to use the funds to help mitigate the need for significant layoffs, tax hikes, and interruption of essential services. Currently, CARES Act funding cannot be used to make up for lost revenue, but the SMART Act would work retroactively change that. Divided into three funding tranches, funding would be distributed by a formula based on population, COVID-19 infection rates, and revenue losses. "I've heard from many Mississippi counties and communities about the financial hardships they're experiencing as costs related to COVID-19 consume more of their budgets. All our state and local leaders want to avoid layoffs, disrupting essential services, or raising taxes," Hyde Smith said.
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Celebrates Award of $91M for Coronavirus Testing in Mississippi
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today celebrated the award of $91,086,258 to the Mississippi Department of Health from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support the expansion of coronavirus testing in Mississippi. Expanded testing will help Mississippi with its efforts to re-open the economy. "Reopening our economy does not mean ignoring the virus. We can, and must, continue to be smart about the pandemic while getting back to work," Wicker said. "This new funding will enable a massive expansion of testing in Mississippi, which will enable more people to go back to work and resume their social lives safely." The award to Mississippi is part of a larger effort by the Trump administration and Congress to expand access to coronavirus testing. The state will be able to use the funding to meet the testing goals laid out in the governor's COVID-19 testing plan, including purchasing test kits and other supplies as necessary.
USDA fills in the blanks on farm aid
President Donald Trump hosted a White House event on Tuesday to talk up his administration's efforts to help struggling farmers and ranchers who've seen their markets disappear because of the pandemic. During his speech, USDA released the nitty gritty details about its $16 billion direct payment program, including new limits on the size of stimulus checks and the list of livestock and crops that qualify. USDA maintained the payment limit of $250,000 per farmer, but the initial $125,000-per-commodity cap was lifted following bipartisan backlash from Congress. Corporations and other entities can get up to $750,000 based on the number of shareholders who spend at least 400 hours on farm labor or management. USDA also named the crops and livestock that aren't eligible for aid because their prices didn't decline by at least 5 percent since January, including certain types of wheat, rice and peanuts. But the department left the door open to "reconsider" if those producers can demonstrate their market damage, except for two crops: hemp and tobacco.
Ag Commissioner Gipson Recognizes National Egg Month as Cal-Maine Foods, Inc. Donates 280,800 Eggs for Families Impacted by COVID-19
Today, Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson joined Cal-Maine Foods, Inc., the nation's largest producer and marketer of shell eggs, as the company donated 280,800 eggs to Extra Table to assist families during the COVID-19 pandemic. "There is no better way to recognize National Egg Month and to honor our farmers and food workers who have continued to work through the pandemic than with this donation of over a quarter million eggs that will go to those that need them the most. I want to thank Cal-Maine Foods, Inc. for their generosity and for making this possible, and I appreciate the Mississippi Food Network and Extra Table for getting these eggs into the hands of those in our local communities," said Commissioner Gipson. The donation to Extra Table will go to helping Mississippi families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Extra Table is a non-profit organization committed to ending hunger by providing food pantries and soup kitchens with the new and healthy food they need to feed the hungry in their community. Cal-Maine Foods, Inc. is the largest producer and marketer of shell eggs in the United States and is based in Jackson.
USDA Farmers to Families Food Box distribution in Jackson
It's 6:15 a.m. Tuesday, May 19, and the Rev. Carol Anthony's phone rings. The Merchants Foodservices truck has arrived with 500 boxes of fresh produce that needs to be unloaded for distribution as part of the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program. Anthony, the special projects coordinator at Stewpot Community Services in Jackson, and two Stewpot volunteers begins unloading with the truck driver. Two more volunteers soon arrive and by 8:30 the boxes are unloaded. By 9 a.m. the first organization is there to pick up their produce. The Farmers to Families Food Box program, part of the Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program the USDA announced April 17, involves the purchasing and distribution of up to $3 billion of agricultural products for those in need. "We are participating in the program where the USDA is helping get fresh produce to people in need," said Marilyn Blackledge, Mississippi Food Network director of external affairs. "We're partnering with our member agencies, along with some other agencies, who are distributing these boxes for us. We're getting 55,000 boxes (a week for six weeks) being delivered by Merchants Foodservice who got the USDA contract to build these food boxes."
'Things Will Never Be The Same.' How The Pandemic Has Changed Worship
Christian worship in the United States, long characterized by its adherence to tradition, appears to have been significantly altered by the coronavirus pandemic. "Things will never be the same," says Harry Moreaux in Naples, Fla., one of nearly 400 churchgoers who shared with NPR how the pandemic has changed their views of church life and their expectations for worship in the months and years ahead. A survey by the Pew Research Center in April found more than 90% of regular churchgoers in the United States saying their churches had closed their doors to combat the spread of the coronavirus, with the vast majority saying that worship services had moved entirely online. Social hours and church suppers are a thing of the past, at least for now. The changes are not all negative. Many pastors have intensified efforts to stay in touch with members of their congregations and maintain their church communities. One of the most disturbing changes for Christians has been the suspension of congregational singing and church choirs. Health experts say the coronavirus is easily spread through singing, but music is an essential part of the worship experience for many churchgoers, especially in the Protestant tradition.
College financial aid applications in Mississippi trail most states as coronavirus pandemic persists
It was March 13 -- about the time when Mississippi schools closed as the coronavirus pandemic spread -- when the number of completed federal student aid applications in Mississippi started to plummet. "We were devastated," said Ann Hendrick, director of Get2College, a program through Woodward Hines Education Foundation that specializes in helping students with college planning. A core part of the Get2College program is helping students fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which the organization considers a "first step" in paying for college. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, leaders of the program had to cancel 20 events that aimed to help students with FAFSA completion. Other foundational institutions that usually help students with financial aid quickly began to shut down as well. "Community colleges were closing. They have FAFSA Fridays. They helped us in the schools. Teachers always keep kids on target. Counselors keep students on target. So we knew that (students) were losing everything that they had," Hendrick said. As of May 8, the most recent data available, the state's FAFSA completion is down by 8.2 percent. By comparison, the national average for FAFSA completion is down by 3.1 percent.
Northeast Mississippi Community College considering early start to fall semester due to COVID-19
Northeast Mississippi Community College is considering an earlier start and end to the upcoming fall semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. President Dr. Ricky G. Ford said his cabinet is studying the possibility of beginning the semester earlier in August in order to finish classes the week before Thanksgiving. The tentative schedule would have fall 2020 classes beginning on Aug. 3 with classes and final exams ending by Nov. 20, the week before Thanksgiving, Ford said on the college's TigerTalk podcast. For comparison, NEMCC's fall 2019 semester began on Aug. 19 and ended on Dec. 5, with final exams wrapping up by Dec. 12. The college is typically closed during the week of Thanksgiving and students return for one last week of classes and final exams before Christmas break, but Ford said "we're hearing there could be another spike in cases of the virus toward the end of the year."
Mississippi Economic Council to honor STAR students through virtual event
Mississippi Economic Council Leadership Mississippi will be hosting a Virtual Coffee and Conversation "Celebrating MEC's Star Students and Teachers" Thursday, May 21, 2020. This event will be a free live event on Facebook. Due to Covid-19 the Mississippi Economic Council canceled its Annual Meeting that was scheduled for April 23. This event brings nearly 2,000 business and community leaders together as well as STAR students and teachers for the Education Celebration that is held in conjunction with MEC's Annual Meeting. As the end of the school-year approaches, health officials are still urging schools and organizations to host virtual ceremonies and celebrations online instead of in-person in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Recognizing the need for people to connect and celebrate is important. However safety is our top priority. The purpose of this Coffee and Conversation is to highlight and celebrate the 332 students from around the state that were recognized as STAR students and teachers.
Laurel student awarded scholarship from state treasurer
Mississippi State Treasurer David McRae presented an area student with the second, "Tell Me Something Good" scholarship on Tuesday at South Central Place in Laurel. Fletcher Horne was the recipient of a check for $529, which will go toward his college education. As part of his Eagle Scout project, Horne started a GoFundMe account and raised over $9,000 for hot, catered meals to feed the heroes in the Laurel medical community. "We've fed Urgent Care, we've fed the entire hospital shift, we've tried to hit separate shifts at the hospital, we've done over a thousand meals so far," Horne said. "I think it's just a good encouragement to all them and just show them that the community cares.
Auburn University's cybersecurity program adds national expertise
Thirty national cyber and critical infrastructure security leaders are joining Auburn University's McCrary Institute as senior fellows, adding their expertise toward development of practical solutions to national security challenges, the university announced on Tuesday. The select group includes senior leaders with a depth of experience in government, private industry and academe. Their high-level government service includes at the White House, on Capitol Hill, in the Department of Defense, and the law enforcement, intelligence and homeland security communities. "This new cohort of senior fellows is tremendously talented and brings a wealth of national security expertise," said Frank Cilluffo, McCrary Institute director. "Their knowledge will help power our efforts to shape policy and impact practice in the United States and build a community of experts committed to advancing our cyber and critical infrastructure security." The McCrary Institute, based in Auburn but with additional centers in Washington, D.C., and Huntsville, seeks practical solutions to pressing challenges in the areas of cyber and critical infrastructure security.
No layoffs in U. of Arkansas budget plan; in new year, cuts to focus on hiring, raises, chancellor says
Looming revenue declines for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville are to be partly offset by cuts in personnel spending, but Chancellor Joe Steinmetz said no layoffs are planned. Across Arkansas and the nation, public universities and colleges face dropping state appropriations as state revenue dwindles during the coronavirus pandemic. The forecast for higher education has dimmed, and Moody's Investors Service has again downgraded its higher-education outlook to negative. In response to revenue declines, UA's hiring freeze for noncritical positions will continue into the fiscal year that begins July 1, Steinmetz said Tuesday. Faculty and staff members also will do without annual merit raises, with exceptions for faculty members receiving tenure or promotions, a UA spokesman said. Though Steinmetz said no layoffs are planned, UA's options for dealing with funding cuts will include "personnel combinations and eliminations" , according to its budget document. Cuts at the flagship institution are relatively small compared with the system's other universities.
U. of Tennessee lays out 'best practices' for returning to campuses this fall
The University of Tennessee has released a list of "best practices" for returning to campuses this fall, including possible changes to the class schedules and how students get around on campus. Among the recommendations: considering changing the semester's schedule and eliminating breaks (like fall break or Thanksgiving break) to limit the number of students traveling off campus. Plans for re-opening campus should extend for at least 18 to 24 months, until a vaccine or treatment has been developed, the task force said. The task force also acknowledged that returning to campus poses a risk for spreading the virus, and "several factors combine to make it unlikely that transmission of COVID-19 can be eliminated with typical campus activities." The system's task force was led by Dr. Jon McCullers, senior executive associate dean of clinical affairs at the UT Health Science Center, who advised on policies that would best protect students, faculty and staff. Part of returning to campus will focus on education about the virus, including information distributed to all students, parents and employees
Coach O says he chased his dream, advises top Baton Rouge high school graduates to do the same
LSU football coach Ed Orgeron on Tuesday told top graduates of high schools in East Baton Rouge Parish to chase their dreams and block out the naysayers. "That's your dream. God put that in your heart. He put that in your mind. That's for you. That's your path," Orgeron said. "It's going to happen to you," he added. "Don't let anybody tell you you can't do it. They're jealous. Don't listen to them." The famous Cajun offered himself as proof of the power of dreams. He pointed to his own rise from humble beginnings in south Lafourche Parish, going from one coaching job to another until he landed "my dream job" as head football coach at LSU, going on to win the National Championship. Orgeron gave his commencement speech on a stage set up in the parking lot at the Louisiana Leadership Institute in Baton Rouge. The event, which began at 5:30 p.m., was livestreamed by LPB and shown live on Cox Cable. The event was organized by the Leadership Institute, the parish Sheriff's Office and the office of Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.
Applying to UGA? Common App now an option
The University of Georgia will join the growing list of colleges and universities that accept the Common Application, the college application that about 900 colleges and universities now use. UGA announced the change in a recent blog post by Senior Associate Director of Admissions Operations and Evaluation David Graves in the university's admissions office. The application simplifies getting into college for high school graduates or college transfer students because they only have to complete a single college application form and process to apply to numerous colleges, including such national institutions as Stanford and Yale universities. Schools in Georgia that already accept the Common Application, or Common App, include Georgia State University, Emory, Georgia Tech, Georgia College and State University, Piedmont College, Spelman College and more. The change won't affect UGA's fall 2020 first-year class, which has already been admitted. UGA is planning for a freshman class of about 5,600 students. College officials across the country fear that enrollment may decline this fall because of the pandemic, but early indications are that UGA's freshman class will be its expected size or close to it.
Georgia University System schools work on fall reopening plan
University System of Georgia officials are working with its schools on plans the system hopes to review next week to determine how they could reopen campuses for in-person instruction this fall and contingency options if they must continue virtual learning. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week obtained a copy of a 31-page memo outlining the options, with many involving social distancing in classrooms, dorms and dining halls. A USG official confirmed the memo's authenticity, but declined to comment about it and stressed the plans are subject to change. Colleges and universities in Georgia and across the nation are exploring options about the best ways to reopen campuses after closing them in mid-March to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Officials in the 330,000-student Georgia system have said they hope to have in-person instruction this fall, pending approval from state health officials and the governor's office. The memo outlines those requirements.
UF online, international and DACA students won't receive aid from CARES Act
While other University of Florida students scrambled to arrange trips home, 21-year-old international student Anastasija Stevanovic was stranded in her dorm. All flights from the U.S. to Europe were canceled. On April 8, the Serbian government arranged a free flight home from Washington D.C. for Serbian international students like Stevanovic. She paid $440 for a flight and hotel, an unexpected cost she said was a little out of her family's reach. She then set off from Gainesville to D.C. two days early, in case flights got canceled. "Because of the uncertainty of the situation in Serbia, all the decisions were basically on the spot," Stevanovic said. Stevanovic is one of UF's more than 6,000 international students who remain ineligible for the U.S. government's COVID-19 emergency funding for students, which would have helped with expenses like Stevanovic's last-minute flight. While Stevanovic said she has a scholarship that covers most of the cost of tuition and books, she pays for expenses like meals, rent and flights home herself. If students are allowed to return to campus in the Fall, Stevanovic said she is worried about how it could affect her financially. Stevanovic said she loves her life at UF, but returning to campus would mean the additional cost of flights and paying for a new visa, which she doesn't have to worry about while at home.
U. of Missouri worst-case budget plan sees cuts up to 25 percent
The University of Missouri could see a 25 percent decline in revenue if the coronavirus forces another shut-down of in-person instruction and students are sent home from campus housing, a worst-case budget scenario given to the Board of Curators shows. Two other scenarios, one with an almost-normal fall and spring semester and another where students are sent home for part of a semester as the university resumes online-only learning. Those outcomes would mean revenue falls 3 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively. "I think our best-case scenario is the most unlikely of the three we went through today," Vice President for Finance Ryan Rapp said. Rapp used references to the actions taken during the Great Depression, including a 38 percent cut to payroll from salary cuts and layoffs, to show that decisive action will help prepare the university for the worst-case scenario. System President and interim MU Chancellor Mun Choi reiterated that the university is planning to go online if necessary but is working as though classes will start as normal. A task force will work on setting a program for testing students and isolating them if necessary.
Several colleges plan to end in-person instruction by Thanksgiving
In the past few weeks, visions of the coming fall semester on college campuses have become increasingly divergent. A few weeks ago, several institutions announced their intention to reopen in the fall. Last week, California State University campuses became some of the first major American universities to say a majority of instruction in the fall likely will be online. Now, several universities have tried to split the difference, saying they will begin the fall in person but make a shift at Thanksgiving break. Some, such as the University of South Carolina and Regis University, have said they will continue with remote instruction or assessment after the holiday. Others, such as the University of Notre Dame and Creighton University, have said they will instead begin the term a bit earlier in August and end it at the break in late November. Many of them have canceled a fall break that usually occurs in mid-October, to prevent students from traveling and returning to campus en masse. The idea behind the switch at Thanksgiving is to avoid a second wave of the outbreak late in the term, which some scientists have forecast. But epidemiological models can be messy.
Survey results on '15 Fall Scenarios' suggest what students want
Few blog posts at Inside Higher Ed have generated as much interest as "15 Fall Scenarios," by Joshua Kim of Dartmouth College and Edward J. Maloney of Georgetown University. It received more than 327,000 pageviews -- and it continues to get more. The piece ran in April and offered colleges 15 scenarios for the upcoming fall semester, from back to normal to a fully remote program. The timing was perfect, as colleges were just starting to consider what they would do. In the weeks since, colleges have not been uniform in their planning, but most of the options colleges are taking can be found in the post. Of course one question was: What would students think? Niche, a website that reviews colleges for prospective students, decided to survey those who come to its website about the scenarios. Some of what it found from a survey of 10,000 students -- in high school and college -- is similar to other surveys. But its findings reinforce the view of many college leaders that getting students to campus is the best way to function ... if it can be done safely.
Many four-years plan to reopen in the fall, but most community colleges plan a virtual semester
Arizona State University. The University of Arkansas system. The University System of Georgia. As spring stretches into summer, colleges keep announcing their plans to resume in-person instruction in the fall. But a few trends stick out. Many of the institutions planning to return in the fall are four-year colleges and universities, especially those that are private. The institutions planning to stick with virtual instruction are predominantly two-year public colleges. Several factors are influencing leaders' decision making for the fall semester. While they vary from college to individual college, wider trends exist in each sector. "As we got to looking at the fall semester, it was really a science and math problem," said Joe May, president of the Dallas County Community College District. May and other leaders of the district faced problems with scaling public health safety interventions. The college serves 162,000 students each year. When leaders looked at screening 40,000 students per day for symptoms of COVID-19, May said, they realized it wasn't a feasible task. On the flip side, some community colleges are committing to reopening campuses in the fall.
Fever Checks and Quarantine Dorms: The Fall College Experience?
Fever checkpoints at the entrances to academic buildings. One-way paths across the grassy quad. Face masks required in classrooms and dining halls. And a dormitory turned quarantine facility for any students exposed to the coronavirus. That was one vision for the fall semester at the University of Kentucky conjured up by a special committee last week -- and not the most dystopian scenario. In a series of planning meetings on Zoom, dozens of key leaders at the university, including deans, police officers and a sorority and fraternity liaison, debated whether and how to reopen its campus in Lexington, Ky., amid an active outbreak. The University of Kentucky allowed a reporter from The New York Times to listen in on its discussions, in part to show how deliberately administrators were working through the possibilities in such fraught times for the country. "This is a moonshot, to do something this quickly," said Eli Capilouto, the university's president, who spent many years as a professor of public health policy and has led Kentucky's flagship institution since 2011. The online discussions revealed the complicated balancing act facing the university as it considers the risks for 30,000 students and 18,000 faculty and staff members and searches for answers with limited knowledge of what the future will bring.
Will College Campuses Reopen During the Pandemic?
Classes will take place in the fall -- but how? There's still no consensus on what next semester will be like. Not even close. This spring's university closures have bought school leaders time to figure out how to introduce social distance into spaces designed to bring people together -- classrooms, dining facilities, study lounges, and campus housing, to name a few. And although pivoting to online learning has likely helped slow the spread of the coronavirus in college towns, a meaningful solution to the crisis appears far off. Colleges cannot keep students away forever; their bottom lines can't handle that financial pressure. Residence halls are scheduled to reopen for the fall semester three months from now. Nearly everyone with an eye on higher education is asking one question: How can schools pull this off? If campuses reopen in the fall, return dates could be staggered. The University of Kentucky is considering having freshmen and sophomores come to campus while juniors and seniors take their classes online. The goal, university officials explained, would be to make sure that the students who need the in-person experience the most would get it, such as first- and second-year students who might have experiential lab requirements or other such course prerequisites. In this scenario, administrators would make exceptions for upperclassmen who also had classes that could not be completed online.
Commercials for college? Advertising in higher education
In the United States, the barrage of advertising from colleges and universities is unrelenting. Colleges seem to advertise nearly everywhere -- on TV, on the internet, and even on subway trains. Commercial advertising is among the most pervasive recruiting tactics used by postsecondary institutions, but we know very little about it. Just how much do colleges spend on advertising? The answer: a lot. In 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, degree-granting U.S. postsecondary institutions spent roughly $730 million on advertising -- including TV, cable, outdoor, and online ads. College advertising spending was even higher just a few years ago. It grew throughout the early 2000s, reached a peak of $1.2 billion in 2013, and has since declined. Trends in advertising spending appear to track patterns of enrollment in for-profit institutions, but with a lag. This correlation is not surprising. As we describe below, for-profit institutions account for the largest share of ad spending, but the smallest share of students.
Reopening of state's casinos signal a major boost to lagging state tax revenues
Syndicated columnist Sid Salter writes: Mississippi's current leadership is taking a page from the state's not-so-distant past by making the state's gaming industry one of the first enterprises to be allowed to reopen as the state tries to come out from under the COVID-19 quarantine. Why? Jobs and tax revenues. The American Gaming Association reported total direct, indirect and induced employment in the state's gaming industry in 2019 at 32,884 with a payroll of over $1.3 billion, although other industry sources total direct casino employment at around 16,400. Mississippi's casino gaming industry, the source in Fiscal Year 2019 of $260.17 million in state and local tax revenues drawn from $2.14 billion in gross gaming revenues, was shut down by order of the Mississippi Gaming Commission on March 16 at midnight. ... Conservative estimates of the direct gaming tax revenue losses during the casino industry's closure period would be $50 million. It's likely more. But as Mississippi learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, getting the casinos open as soon as water, sewer, and power service was available was a key component in getting the Gulf Coast back on its feet.

Mississippi State sees APR scores surpass benchmark multiyear rate in all sports
Mississippi State surpassed the multiyear benchmark set by the NCAA for all 16 of its athletic teams Tuesday as college sports' governing body released its annual Academic Progress Rate scores for the 2018-19 school year. A team's APR score is used to measure the academic performance of all NCAA Division I athletic programs and is considered a "real-time" look at academic progress, graduation and retention. In order to participate in the 2020-21 postseason, the NCAA requires teams to boast a four-year APR score of at least 930 -- which predicts, on average, a 50 percent graduation rate for teams at that APR level. Those teams that do not meet this mark are then eligible for a number of penalties from the NCAA depending on the score. Of MSU's 16 teams, women's tennis earned a perfect multiyear rate of 1,000 for the fourth straight season, while football, baseball, men's basketball, volleyball, men's and women's golf and men's and women's track all experienced increases in their own multiyear rates. On the men's side, football boasted the highest APR of any team with a score of 984 -- an eight-point increase from last season and the highest such mark for the program since APR was implemented in 2003. This is also the fourth straight year in which the MSU football program's APR score increased, tying it for the third-best mark in the Southeastern Conference with Vanderbilt.
'Good to be back home:' What Ron Polk's return to Mississippi State means for Bulldogs
The second comeback could be greater than the first. Ron Polk has returned to Mississippi State -- again. Polk, 76, spent the last 12 years away from Starkville working as a volunteer assistant for UAB's baseball program. Now he'll serve as a special assistant to MSU athletic director John Cohen starting Sept. 1. "I'm looking forward to being with John and being with the athletic department once again," Polk told the Clarion Ledger on Tuesday. "It's basically my home." Polk led Mississippi State to five College World Series appearances in 22 years during his first stint as coach of the Diamond Dawgs from 1976-97. That included a CWS run in '97, his last season in Starkville at the time. "I think he's a great resource for me, personally," said Cohen, who played for Polk at Mississippi State from 1987-90. "He's been a mentor to me, he's been a friend to me, a real constant in my life. There are literally thousands of other student athletes who feel the same way." When Polk starts his duties from the Bryan Building this fall, they'll be a lot different than what he did in the dugout at Dudy Noble Field. His name is on the baseball stadium. The Ring of Honor is named after him, too. But this time, Polk's presence on campus will be bigger than baseball.
NFL 'will have positive cases' in bid to play season amid pandemic, league's top medical officer says
The NFL has "broad agreement" with the players' union on safety protocols for conducting the 2020 season this fall, the league's top medical expert said Tuesday, adding that the NFL will be prepared to deal with the inevitability of players, coaches or other staffers testing positive for the novel coronavirus. "We have a task force working very diligently on that," Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer, said during a conference call with reporters. "We fully well expect that we will have positive cases that arise because we think that this disease will remain endemic in society. And so it shouldn't be a surprise if new positive cases arise. Our challenge is to identify them as quickly as possible and to prevent spread to any other participants. So we're working very diligently on that, and we'll have some detailed plans to share about that at a later time." Sills, who briefed team owners earlier Tuesday, did not provide a timetable for the league finalizing operational protocols with the NFL Players Association, saying the sides will have to be prepared to adjust to changing circumstances.
Power Five conferences spending big to lobby Congress on paying student-athletes
The Power Five conferences spent $350,000 on lobbying in the first three months of 2020, more than they had previously spent in any full year, as part of a coordinated effort to influence Congress on legislation affecting the ability of college athletes to earn endorsement money. The Southeastern Conference was the biggest spender, hiring three lobbying firms and paying them a total of $140,000, according to lobbying disclosure forms reviewed by the Associated Press. Before this year, the SEC did not employ Washington lobbyists, instead leaving the work of influencing Congress to individual universities and the NCAA. In a statement to AP, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the conference hired lobbyists so it could be part of the discussion as Congress gets more serious about reforming college sports. "It is important for the SEC to have a voice in this national dialogue," Sankey said.
Athlon college football preview magazine to publish with season in limbo
At this time every year the level of excitement for college football fans reaches a new level as annual preview magazines start hitting newsstands. Glossy photos of top players on the covers with picks, predictions and preseason all-star teams inside are a surefire way to hype the season. This year is different. The coronavirus pandemic has left the 2020 college football season in limbo. The pandemic also canceled spring practice. But that doesn't mean there won't be preview magazines. Nashville-based Athlon Sports would normally already have published its college football preview magazines. But they will be on newsstands June 2. Editors moved the magazine's deadline and publication date back waiting to see if a decision would be made about the season. They're still waiting, but confident the season will be played. "It was an unusual production cycle for sure," said Athlon managing editor Rob Doster, a Vanderbilt graduate. At the same time, Doster hopes the lack of college football for such a long stretch will make fans more eager than ever to read his magazine.
Academic progress rates released for MSU, Ole Miss
Ole Miss athletics posted an overall multi-year average of 991 and Mississippi State scored a 930 when NCAA Academic Progress Rates were released Tuesday. The Rebels' football program scored 997 and was among five programs to receive public recognition from the NCAA last week. Ole Miss, for all sports, posted a single-year score of 986 for data compiled for the 2018-2019 academic year. The multi-year score is the highest achieved by the department. All 16 of MSU's athletic programs surpassed benchmarks by at least 33 points with 13 of its teams scoring 974 or better. The Bulldogs averaged 981.7 for the 2018-19 academic year. MSU women's tennis led the way with a score of 1,000 and received an NCAA Public Recognition Award for ranking in the top 10 among women's tennis programs nationally. The women's tennis score was followed by softball and volleyball with scores of 995.
Razorback football, men's basketball fall below single-year benchmark, but OK overall in APR
All University of Arkansas' athletic programs exceeded the multi-year benchmark in the latest NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) report, but the Razorbacks' football and men's basketball teams had single-year scores that could be problematic in the future. Arkansas' football single-year score of 895 and men's basketball score of 920 for the 2018-19 school year are below the NCAA benchmark of 930. Georgia men's basketball (922) is the only other program with a single-year score below the benchmark in the SEC's two most high-profile sports. When averaged with the last four single-year scores, Arkansas' multi-year score in football (962) and men's basketball (958) are above the benchmark of 930. The 895 single-year football score was for Arkansas' first full academic year under former coach Chad Morris. The football team's three previous single-year scores were 985, 988 and 981. Between December 2017, when Morris was hired, and the beginning of the 2019 season, at least 24 scholarship football players left the Razorbacks' program, including some for medical reasons. Since the players' academic status at the time they transferred is confidential, it's difficult to determine how many transfers negatively affected the APR score.
Georgia football and baseball rise, men's basketball slides in NCAA academic report
College sports teams haven't posted any scores since the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down games on fields of play. The NCAA's annual Academic Progress Rate released Tuesday offers a snapshot of how teams are faring in a different type of measure. Georgia's baseball team topped all SEC teams with a 995 score, its highest mark in program history. Football rose six points to a 969 -- ninth in the SEC -- while men's basketball dipped 20 points to 975 for seventh in the conference. The national rate was 964 for football and 966 for men's basketball. Men's basketball's multi-year APR rate included a 922 for 2018-2019, the first full academic year under coach Tom Crean. Georgia's attrition after that season included Nicolas Claxton to the NBA and transfers Jojo Toppin (Georgia State), Teshaun Hightower (Tulane) and Ignas Sargunas (Colorado State). The program finished in the top 10 percent nationally in the APR last year and three times in the six years before that.
How are LSU teams' academic progress rate scores? Football last in SEC; 10 get perfect score
The LSU football team's Academic Progress Rate score increased slightly, but it remained the lowest in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers' multi-year APR score rose one point to 952 during the 2018-19 academic year, according to NCAA data released Tuesday. The score was 10 points below Arkansas, the next-lowest SEC team. Ten LSU teams reached a perfect single-year score of 1,000, a school record, which meant no players transferred and all of them reached academic eligibility. Overall, LSU's teams combined for a single-year APR score of 985, two points higher than the Division I average. Every LSU team cleared the NCAA's APR multi-year penalty benchmark of 930, which teams must reach in order to avoid penalties such as postseason bans and scholarship reductions. The LSU football team ranked last in the SEC for the third straight year.
Florida's APR scores strong again
It's high marks in all sports again for Florida athletics in the Academic Progress Rate, the NCAA announced Tuesday. The NCAA recognized the APR of five Florida teams last week as they ranked in the top 10 percent of their sport -- men's basketball, women's golf, gymnastics, lacrosse and volleyball. "Last week, we announced an overall student-athlete GPA of 3.40 for the spring semester -- the highest in program history," Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said. "Now today's APR is another example of the Gator student-athletes' commitment to their academic performance." Fourteen Florida teams exceeded or equaled its sport's national average. This includes Florida football team's 974, which is above the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision national average of 968, while men's basketball's 995 is among the sport's top 10 percent.
Mizzou athletic programs score high on annual APR scores
The NCAA released each Division I program's Academic Progress Rate scores for 2018-19 on Tuesday, with every Missouri team gaining positive marks. Every Tiger team scored well above the 930-point cutoff where an automatic postseason ban would trigger for any team with a four-year average below that total. APR scores "hold institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term," according to the NCAA. Three MU programs scored a perfect multi-year mark of 1,000: women's basketball, women's tennis and women's cross country. No Missouri women's program scored a multi-year mark below 989, with women's swimming and diving as well as women's track and field just missing a perfect score with marks of 998 and 996, respectively.
Texas A&M's APR scores in good standing
Eight Texas A&M athletic teams had multi-year NCAA Academic Progress Rate scores of 990 or higher for the four-year period covering the 2015-16 to 2018-19 school years, the NCAA announced Tuesday. Every A&M program also cleared the NCAA-mandated threshold of 930. The Aggie women's cross country team earned a public recognition award for the fourth straight season, posting a perfect APR of 1,000 in each report during that span. Women's golf also scored 1,000 this year. A&M also had 990 or higher scores in women's basketball (995), women's swimming and diving (995),men's golf (995), softball (991), men's swimming and diving (990) and women's volleyball (990). Nationwide, 15 teams are facing the most severe sanctions. Seven teams had scores lower than 900, including two each at Stephen F. Austin and Alabama A&M. The SFA men's basketball team posted the nation's worst score at 810. The Lumberjack football program scored 894. The baseball program scored 930, leaving all three programs facing postseason bans.
Nudity, hazing probe shook Kentucky's acclaimed cheerleading team. What's next for it?
Turmoil has caused a University of Kentucky team with a reputation for excellence to restart without its national championship-winning head coach and his cadre of assistants. UK announced Monday that it fired four coaches from the program, which has won 24 national championships, after an investigation into allegations of hazing, nudity and alcohol use on cheer team trips. After the team won four consecutive national titles from 2016-19, UK dismissed head coach Jomo Thompson and four assistant coaches (Ben Head, Spencer Clan and Kelsey LaCroix) because the university determined that the coaches "knew or reasonably should have known" about the team's conduct and did not properly address it. T. Lynn Williamson, a university lawyer who also served for four decades as an administrative adviser to the cheerleading squad, retired as a result of the investigation. The program has been moved under the direction of the athletic department and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart.
Texas A&M AD Ross Bjork says outlook healthy for 2020 college football season
Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said Tuesday that the Aggies' 2020 nonconference football game with Fresno State is not in jeopardy despite the announcement earlier this month by the California State University System that its member schools would hold the majority of its fall classes online. A&M is set to host Fresno State, a California State school, on Oct. 10 at Kyle Field. A&M also has a home game scheduled with the Pac-12 Conference's Colorado on Sept. 19, and Bjork said he expects both games to be played. "I talked with both athletic directors at Fresno State and the University of Colorado and their comments were, 'We're coming to Kyle Field. Count on us being there,'" Bjork said on his bi-weekly Zoom press conference. Concerns have been raised about the Pac-12 schools returning at the same time, and one option for A&M should its game with Colorado be canceled is a meeting with Texas Tech, which is scheduled to host the Pac-12's Arizona on the same day. Bjork said he has not spoken with Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt on the matter.
Work at Bryant-Denny Stadium resumes after COVID-19 positives cause weekend halt
Work on the ongoing Bryant-Denny Stadium construction project at the University of Alabama was briefly suspended last weekend after an undisclosed number of workers had positive tests for the coronavirus. Work resumed Monday, according to the project's chief contractor, the Montgomery-based Caddell Construction Company. "The safety of all of our employees and trade partners is our top priority," Caddell said in a statement released to The Tuscaloosa News on Tuesday night. "In addition to adhering to all established protocols to protect our workers, Caddell restricted operations over the past weekend after receiving notice of positive tests among some employees and trade partners. This allowed us to engage in additional deep-cleaning and provide testing by an independent laboratory so all of our team members could be cleared before returning to the job site. Our processes meet and/or exceed OSHA and CDC guidelines. We will continue to act on the latest guidance and information to promote the health and safety of our essential workforce." Work on the $92.5 million first phase of the renovation began in November. Alabama director of athletics Greg Byrne said on a video Q-and-A moderated by UA athletics last week that construction was "on schedule" despite a January accident in which two workers were injured by falling beams.

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