Tuesday, October 27, 2020   
Meridian welcomes first publicly funded physician assistant program
After a four-year process, MSU-Meridian welcomes the first publicly funded physician assistant program in the state of Mississippi. Mississippi State University hopes to improve the quality of health with its first cohort at the Riley campus in downtown Meridian starting January 2021. MSU's program administrators made final selections from over 250 applicants and 50 finalists competing for 20 available cohort slots. Associate Vice President & Head of Campus, Terry Dale Cruse, says the program will be priced below others in the region which makes it more accessible to students in Mississippi. "Half of the seats that we offered initially to students who interviewed were to students from the state of Mississippi. So, we are pleased to be a program who is offering access and affordability to students from our state who aspire to be medical professionals," Cruse said. Contributions from the Riley and Phil Hardin foundations helped get this program to this point in Meridian.
Absentee voting up more than 50 percent from 2016 in Golden Triangle
Months ago, long before absentee voting for the Nov. 3 election began, Clay County Circuit Clerk Kim Brown Hood was notified by the Secretary of State's office to expect a lot more people to vote by absentee than during the 2016 presidential election. "We were told before the start to estimate 25 percent more absentee votes," Hood said. While Hood isn't sure what the final absentee voting numbers were in her county in 2016, she's pretty sure the numbers are substantially higher than 25 percent. What's happening with absentee ballots in Clay County is hardly an anomaly. Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Tony Rook estimated 2,500 voters have turned in absentee ballots this year, an increase of 56 percent over the 1,600 absentee ballots cast in 2016. As of Monday afternoon, Lowndes County Circuit Clerk Teresa Barksdale reported 3,071 absentee ballots cast. In 2016, there were 2,304 absentee ballots cast in the county. Barksdale suggested those numbers will continue to swell in the remaining week of voting.
Will Mississippi dodge another bullet with Hurricane Zeta? Not likely, officials say
Yes, there's another one. Mississippi is in the crosshairs yet again as another tropical system makes its way toward the weather-weary U.S. Gulf Coast. But the state may not be as lucky as it has been previously this hurricane season. Hurricane Zeta is currently a Category 1 storm churning near the Yucatan Peninsula and is expected to continue strengthening as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico. As of Monday evening, models indicated it could bring high winds, heavy rain and high storm surge to the Mississippi Coast Wednesday night. The worst impact the state has seen so far in the 2020 season was with Hurricane Delta. More than 100,000 people in the southwestern portion of the state lost power during the peak of the storm on Oct. 9, some for as long as 10 days. During a news conference Monday, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Greg Michel said the storm is expected to be a tropical storm or a low-end Category 1 hurricane once it reaches the Mississippi coast. But he warned people to remain on their guard and make preparations now.
Jim Cantore is coming to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for Hurricane Zeta
With Hurricane Zeta now a Category 1, two Weather Channel personalities will be reporting from the Mississippi Coast as the tropical storm approaches. This year will make the seventh year with 11 hurricanes or more, with the last one 2005 with 15. Gulf Coast weather watchers always wait to see where celebrity Jim Cantore will go, and for this late-season storm he's slated for Gulfport. "It's not uncommon to have tropical storms developing this late in the season, but serious threats to the U.S. at the end of October are much less frequent," said Stu Ostro, senior director of Weather Communications at The Weather Channel. Although Cantore's planned spot for the hurricane in Gulfport for the mid-week landfall, he's already here on the Coast. Bob Mahoney, owner of Mary Mahoney's in Biloxi, posted a photo with Jim Cantore on Monday night inside his staple restaurant.
Record number of small-business bankruptcy filings signal COVID-19 distress
A record number of small businesses based in Mississippi filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code during the second quarter of 2020. That, of course, was when the coronavirus pandemic struck and the first lockdowns and restrictions were put into place across the nation. There were 29 such filings in the second quarter, compared with six in the year-earlier period, according to U.S. bankruptcy data. Such businesses received a stroke of legislative luck when President Trump signed a bipartisan bill that became known as the Small Business Reorganization Act in August 2019, well before the coronavirus struck in March. The act contains Subchapter V, which was subsequently amended by Congress to increase the maximum debt to $7.5 million, up from $2.75 million for one year, till March 27, 2021 under the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act to benefit debtors, as well as creditors. The number of cases in Mississippi are not big, but they belie a much broader toll on smaller businesses. Dawn Starnes, director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Mississippi, said that "most of our businesses" are family owned and don't file for bankruptcy protection -- they just close.
Gov. Tate Reeves announces new mask, distancing restrictions for 7 Mississippi counties
Gov. Tate Reeves announced Monday that seven additional counties in the state will be put under new restrictions as COVID-19 infections continue to spike. The seven new counties include Benton, Carroll, Harrison, Jones, Leake, Madison and Marshall. Hinds and Rankin counties remain close to being included in the new mandate, Reeves said. The counties will join nine others announced last week. All residents in the impacted counties will be required to wear a mask in all public areas where it's not possible to maintain six feet of distance. In addition, all private and public social gatherings will be limited to 10 people while indoors and 50 people outdoors. The order will not apply to churches, classrooms or voting precincts.
Governor imposes mask mandate in Benton, Marshall counties
Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday signed an executive order adding Marshall and Benton counties to a growing list of Mississippi counties under stricter COVID-19 safety mandates. Attempting to curb viral transmission in the state, the newest order requires residents in these two Northeast Mississippi counties and five other counties in the state to wear masks when inside public buildings where social distancing is not possible. Under the restrictions on crowds, indoor social gatherings where social distancing is not possible will be limited to no more than 10 people. The mandate limits outdoor gatherings where social distancing is not possible to 50 people. With the vast majority of Mississippians voting in-person in one week, Reeves said he did not believe that he would issue an order requiring people to wear a mask while inside a voting precinct. "I don't anticipate that I am going to mandate masks at every polling location," Reeves said. "I do anticipate a vast majority of Missisisppians are going to wear a mask when they go vote."
Organizations are ramping up voter engagement
Mississippians are one week away from voting in what many are calling one of the most important elections of our lifetime. More than 140,000 people have already voted by absentee -- surpassing numbers in 2016. And election experts predict a record-breaking voter turnout at the polls next Tuesday. Fletcher Freeman, State Chairman of the Mississippi Federation of College Republicans, says it's important for Mississippians to get out and vote. To vote on things that directly impact Mississippians is something that's not always something we get to do," said Freeman. "So a lot of times you get to see the state legislature vote on things and it's just kind of enacted from there but for Mississippians to get out and be able to vote for something that will directly impact them is extremely important. In addition to the presidential race, congressional, and some judicial seats there are also three statewide ballot measures directly affecting Mississippians. There's an up or down vote on the newly proposed "In God We Trust" state flag, a resolution on how we elect candidates to statewide office, and two competing proposals on whether or not to legalize medical marijuana.
City of Madison petitions Mississippi Supreme Court over Initiative 65
The City of Madison and Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler have filed an emergency petition before the Mississippi Supreme Court seeking a declaration that Initiative 65 was unconstitutionally brought to the voters. "The constitutional process for amending our constitution has not been followed and the public has been misled about the content of the initiative. Initiative 65 gives marijuana providers greater rights than any other lawful business. Such a significant change must be lawfully adopted," said the mayor. City leaders said they're not opposed to a well-regulated pure medical marijuana program for the truly suffering, but they have concerns about how the amendment was brought to the voters.
Mississippi absentee voting continues to increase
Absentee voting in Mississippi is continuing at a brisk pace, the state's top elections official said Monday. Secretary of State Michael Watson said nearly 170,000 absentee ballots had been requested and about 142,600 of those had been completed and returned by Sunday. That compares to 103,000 total absentee ballots that were cast in the state during the 2016 election, the last time a presidential race was on the ballot. This year's absentee numbers surpassed the 2016 numbers a week ago. Mississippi is one of five states without no-excuses early voting. Absentee voting in Mississippi is available to anyone who is 65 or older or who has a temporary or permanent disability. It is also available to people who have to work on Election Day when polls are open or to people who will be out of town on Election Day, including college students.
Four Mississippi Counties More Than Double 2016 Absentee Totals Ahead of Oct. 31 Deadline
With five days to go until the Oct. 31 deadline, Mississippians in Washington, Hinds, Harrison and Sunflower counties have already returned twice as many absentee ballots for this year's general election compared to 2016. Washington, Hinds and Sunflower each have non-white populations of at least 70%, and states nationwide have reported large jumps in African American early voting turnout. In Harrison County, which includes Biloxi and Gulfport, Black voters make up 26% of the population. Voters in Washington County, which includes Greenville, lead the pack relative to their 2016 vote totals, with 231% as many votes cast and returned to election officials by Sunday. Among the current total of 4,224, 37% of Washington County voters cited being age 65 or older their reason for voting absentee. The second most cited reason for casting an absentee ballot was that a voter had a "temporary disability," which accounted for 22% of votes cast. After leading last week, Hinds County, the home of the capital city of Jackson, now has the second highest number of absentee ballots returned relative to its 2016 total. By Sunday, voters had returned 11,772 absentee ballots to election officials, compared to just 5,314 in all of 2016.
As COVID-19 cases surge, Mississippi voters wonder: How safe is voting in person on Election Day?
Mississippi is the only state in the country that didn't expand early voting during the global pandemic, and there are only a few specific reasons that someone can vote early. Fear of catching COVID-19 is not one of them, no matter a voter's risk level. Mississippi's strict voting requirements and loose coronavirus precautions in many counties have concerned many Mississippians, and they wonder whether voting in person on Election Day could be dangerous as state health officials work to slow down another spike in cases. Voting in person can be done safely, according to numerous public health officials, though there is slight risk. Most experts compare the risk to grocery shopping -- tight, often-crowded spaces without a lot of airflow. Their assessment, though, factors in widespread masking. Poll workers will be provided masks, face shields and gloves, according to the state's election safety guidelines. Still, some voters are hesitant -- especially those who don't qualify for early voting but are higher risk for COVID-19 complications.
How the Senate GOP's right turn paved the way for Amy Coney Barrett
One day after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, President Donald Trump told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that "lots of people" thought Barbara Lagoa would be the best pick for the Supreme Court. After all, the Cuban American judge from Florida could give a huge political boost to the president in a key swing state. McConnell had a rebuttal: Pick Amy Coney Barrett instead, according to GOP leadership and White House aides. McConnell argued Barrett, an ardent social conservative, would have the best chance of uniting the party -- and if Trump even thought of picking someone else, he needed to call McConnell and give him a chance to change the president's mind. On Monday, eight days before the presidential election, Barrett was confirmed. It's a win not just for McConnell and Trump; it marks a sea change in how Republicans handle judicial nominees amid the decades-long war over abortion rights. Just two years ago, Barrett was seen as possibly too conservative to be confirmed by a narrow Republican Senate majority, and too hostile to Roe v. Wade. This time around, McConnell argued to the White House not to meet with anyone other than Barrett, according to the aides.
Roger Wicker, Cindy Hyde-Smith vote with GOP majority to confirm Amy Coney Barrett
Both of Mississippi's U.S. senators, Roger Wicker of Tupelo and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven, joined with a majority of their Republican colleagues to confirm Amy Coney Barrett as the newest justice to join the nation's high court. Since the September death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg unexpectedly opened a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, Wicker and Hyde-Smith have been vocal in their support of efforts by President Donald Trump and the Senate GOP majority to fill the seat prior to November's presidential election. The vote to confirm Barrett was 52 to 48, with all Republicans voting to confirm except Susan Collins of Maine. All Democrats voted in opposition. Both of Mississippi's senators touted the credentials of the newest Supreme Court justice and their belief that she will rule in accordance with conservative judicial principles. Neither senator made mention of the political dispute that has raged in recent weeks about whether a confirmation vote so near a presidential election is appropriate. In 2016, Senate Republicans held open for more than nine months a vacancy on the high court and would not hold hearings or a vote for a nominee put forward by President Barack Obama.
A World Without Legal Abortion: How Activists Envision A 'Post-Roe' Nation
Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation could open the door to a world that many anti-abortion-rights activists have been envisioning for decades. "I hope and pray that we will be in a world post-Roe v. Wade," said Carrie Murray Nellis, 41, an adoption attorney based in Georgia. Murray Nellis is the founder of Abiding Love Adoptions, which operates in Georgia, Florida and Alabama. She hopes Barrett's confirmation will lead to the overturning of the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, which would thereby allow states to further restrict or ban the procedure. A majority of Americans favor some restrictions on abortion but support Roe v. Wade, according to national polls. But activists dedicated to the goal of ending abortion in the U.S. have been organizing for decades at every level of government. They often say their goal is to make abortion both "illegal and unthinkable." Leslie Reagan is a history professor at the University of Illinois and author of the book When Abortion Was a Crime. If Roe falls, Reagan said, women will still seek out illegal and sometimes unsafe abortions, as they did before Roe. Reagan said activists who've been organizing with that thought in mind for decades are likely to insist on enforcing state abortion bans.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner: Black Americans have to 'want to be successful'
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said Monday that in order for the president's policies to be most effective, Black Americans must want to succeed. "One thing we've seen in a lot of the Black community, which is mostly Democrat, is that President Trump's policies are the policies that can help people break out of the problems that they're complaining about," Kushner, who is Trump's son-in-law, said during a Fox News interview. "But he can't want them to be successful more than they want to be successful." His comments come just eight days before the presidential election, with nationwide polls consistently showing Trump trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who also leads in many battleground states. Black voter turnout hit a 20-year low in 2016, and both campaigns have focused heavily on courting Black Americans. Historically, Republican presidential candidates have done poorly with Black voters, but Trump garnered double-digit support among Black men in 2016. But polls this cycle point to a significant lead for Biden over Trump with Black voters. Kushner's comments came in response to the White House meeting with rapper Ice Cube about policies that would bring more equity to Black communities around the country.
Are Doug Jones, Alabama Democrats missing out on possible Democratic revival in the South?
In South Carolina, Democratic Senate challenger Jaime Harrison is shattering fundraising records in his quest to bump off longtime Republican incumbent Senator Lindsey Graham. If he is successful, it will mark the first time a Democrat has won a Senate race in the Palmetto State in 22 years. North Carolina Democrat Cal Cunningham is leading GOP incumbent Thom Tillis in most polling, and Georgia's two Senate seats held by Republicans could be flipped. Both races are considered "toss ups" by the Cook Political Report. In Texas, typically a Republican stalwart, is considered a battleground at almost all levels of government as Democrats have their eyes set on flipping the State House of Representatives for the first time since 2003. Even Mississippi, considered the most conservative state in a 2018 Gallup poll, is catching the attention of the political world after The Tyson Group -- which has been polling the state's Senate race this year -- showed that Democratic challenger Mike Espy had moved from more than 25 points behind Republican incumbent Senator Cynthia Hyde-Smith, to just 1 point back. He is also outraising Hyde-Smith since July. It is almost as if Democratic Senator Doug Jones, who trails Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville by double digits in most polls, is being left out in a potential Democratic revival in the South.
JSU awarded millions to help reduce health disparities
Many minorities experience health disparities at disproportionate rates. They are dealing with everything from chronic diseases to an increased risk of adverse health outcomes. Jackson State University wins a $11.2 million grant to create a specialized research center on minority health and health disparities. "We believe it can start here. That the cure for cancer, the cure for heart disease, we definitely want to put our students and our young minds in position to come up within those challenges," said Dr. Wilbur Walters, Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology. Jackson State University is excited about the new multimillion-dollar grant from the National Institute of Health that will help them provide innovative research on health issues of minorities and underserved communities. "Absolutely COVID-19 is going to highlight what we're doing here in Jackson State. It's not perfect dealing with a pandemic, but I think because our communities have a been so impacted by it, the pandemic has highlighted all those things like strokes issues, diabetes, and heart disease. That we allow us to dig down deeper into those mitigating ailments." They say the five-year grant will also allow JSU to create a specialized research center to improve community health.
Alcorn State University announces commencement ceremonies
Alcorn State University announced Monday it will hold in-person commencement ceremonies for the fall class of 2020 and spring class of 2020 on Saturday, Nov. 21, in the Jack Spinks Stadium-Marino Casem Field. The Golden Class of 1970 will also be honored. Tickets will be required and masks will be mandatory. "Commencement is a joyous time for the University to celebrate our students' accomplishments and bid them farewell," Alcorn State President Dr. Felecia M. Nave said. "This year's ceremony holds special meaning. As we continue to navigate the global pandemic, COVID-19, we are excited to honor our fall 2020 graduates and also celebrate our spring 2020 and Golden Class of 1970, whose opportunity to walk across the commencement stage was delayed."
Meridian Community College sees 12% dip in fall enrollment
Meridian Community College is seeing a decrease in student enrollment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fall enrollment was 2,900 students, a decrease of about 12 percent compared to last year, said MCC President Tom Huebner. In a typical year, the school enrolls 3,000 to 3,200 students, he said. The dip in enrollment mirrors a nationwide trend, he said. "We expected things were going to be down," Huebner said. "We just saw it trending that way, nationally and regionally." "Some students were fearful of coming back for a variety of reasons, so it's an odd time for us in higher education," he said. Huebner said the school, which typically enrolls about 200 students from Alabama, has also seen a dip in out of state enrollment. To help with enrollment, the school plans to offer new courses and aggressively market its programs, he said.
Tougaloo College to honor Beverly Wade Hogan, Ph.D., president emerita of Tougaloo College
Tougaloo College announced the establishment of a $4 million scholarship endowment in honor of Beverly Wade Hogan, Ph.D., president emerita of Tougaloo College. The gift was given by philanthropist and noted astronomers, Drs. Julie Lutz and George Wallerstein. The $4 million endowed scholarship is the single largest gift from an individual donor in the history of Tougaloo College. "Dr. George Wallerstein and his wife, Dr. Julie Lutz, are longtime friends and sustained donors of Tougaloo College. They were such integral participants throughout my presidency and it has been my special privilege to know them and have them as part of our circle of friends and supporters. I am humbled and grateful for their gift to Tougaloo College to establish an endowed scholarship in honor of my presidency and legacy, with scholarship recipients bearing the name of Hogan Scholars," said Hogan. Dr. Hogan served as the 13th president of Tougaloo College, beginning 2002 until her retirement in June 2019. Her 17-year tenure saw Tougaloo positioned among the best liberal arts colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in college rankings.
Auburn students sign S/U grading petition
As Auburn students have navigated their way through a different semester with many classes online, some have said they are finding schoolwork behind a screen more challenging than face-to-face instruction. McKenna Prochaska, sophomore in law and justice, saw her fellow students in a class of 2023 group chat discussing these issues. They wanted to start a petition to the University to reintroduce the "satisfactory, unsatisfactory" grading system used for the spring 2020 semester, but they were unsure how to approach the idea. So, Prochaska took the initiative and launched one herself. The petition, addressed to Jay Gogue, calls for the fall 2020 semester to be switched to having a pass, fail option to account for the online school learning curve. Prochaska said she wants to go to law school after earning an undergraduate degree, and she does not want this semester to ruin her chances of getting into a good graduate school with all the unforeseen challenges COVID-19 has caused.
Over 1,100 U. of Tennessee students received UT Promise scholarships this year
Over 1,100 students took part in the UT Promise scholarship program in its first semester at the University of Tennessee System. UT Promise, a last-dollar scholarship program modeled after Tennessee Promise, was announced last year as a way to cover tuition and fees for students with a household income of less than $50,000 per year. This fall was the first semester for the program and 1,191 students took part in the program across the UT System. At Friday's Board of Trustees meeting, UT System President Randy Boyd said the UT program is aimed at helping more students attend UT and graduate debt-free. "We want to be a university that provides opportunity for every person that can academically earn the right to come, regardless of your financial means," Boyd said. "This will do that. We also want to retain our students. We don't want them to drop out because of financial reasons. This will also make it less likely for more students to drop out."
Despite state's COVID-19 surge, U. of Kentucky says another field hospital isn't needed
Months after the University of Kentucky deconstructed a $7 million unused field hospital, Kentucky's largest health care system is again preparing for an "expected increase" in COVID-19 patients, but a separate overflow facility likely won't be necessary, officials said on Monday. UKHealthCare is currently treating about 50 novel coronavirus patients, Colleen Swartz, UKHealthCare vice president for hospital operations said in a virtual news conference Monday. The hospital system in the last two weeks has seen an increase in its coronavirus patient population, but not dramatically. "We've been running consistently 25-30 inpatients with COVID-19, and now we're in the 45-50 range," Swartz said. Current models Swartz and Dr. Mark Newman, UK's vice president for health affairs, say they're using don't require any capacity outside of UKHealthCare's current footprint. In April, when Kentucky's initial COVID-19 infection curve was trending upward for the first time, UK scrambled to build a 400-bed field hospital near Kroger Field to absorb a projected overflow in hospital patients. But those patients never came, largely because Kentucky, by way of shutting down its economy for several weeks through a series of executive orders, avoided an initial spike. Now, five months later, Kentucky is facing its most dramatic case surge.
U. of Florida Hillel offers free golf cart rides to early voting site
With fewer college students routinely coming to campus for classes, those wanting to cast their ballot early can now hitch a ride Florida style: a golf cart courtesy of the University of Florida's Hillel organization. UF's Hillel chapter has rented a fleet of golf carts to pick up and drop off students to the early voting precinct at the Reitz Union, as part of Hillel International's nonpartisan MitzVote campaign. "It's a very Floridian kind of thing," said Rabbi Jonah Zinn, executive director of UF Hillel. "I think we were brainstorming how we could mobilize more students, and this came up as a COVID-friendly option that would create some excitement." Hillel International, a worldwide Jewish campus organization, has launched an education effort to get more students to learn how to register to vote, where to vote and get to the polls. UF Hillel has offered students free car rides to the Reitz Union polling location on campus for years, Zinn said, but the COVID-19 pandemic made them rethink how to bring them to the polls safely. Many students are taking online classes, and don't venture as frequently onto campus.
Texas A&M to lead $100M research for hypersonic flight
The U.S. Department of Defense announced Monday that a state agency of the Texas A&M University System will lead a $100 million national research consortium for modernizing hypersonic flight capabilities. The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station will manage a five-year, $20 million-per-year initiative involving many of the nation's top research universities. The University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics will gather scholars from more than 40 universities as well as other federally funded researchers and industry leaders. The number of institutions involved is expected to rise. On a Monday afternoon call with reporters, Lewis and Gillian Bussey, who is the director of the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office for the Department of Defense, praised Texas A&M for its proposal to head the consortium and its hypersonics research. Lewis said such research is one of the U.S. military's biggest priorities. The announcement comes at a time when Texas A&M -- along with the University of Texas System and other universities in the state -- is working with the Austin-based Army Futures Command to help modernize the U.S. military.
Americans are divided on whether colleges that brought students back to campus made the right decision
Colleges and universities across the United States scrambled this fall to come up with a safe and practical approach to learning as the coronavirus outbreak showed no signs of easing up, with some schools opting to resume campus life and others going completely virtual. Colleges are continuing to adapt amid new outbreaks in certain COVID-19 hotspots. Against this backdrop, the public has mixed views on whether providing in-person instruction this fall was a good idea. Half of all U.S. adults say colleges and universities that brought students back to campus made the right decision, while 48% say they did not, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. A separate analysis of Census Bureau data shows that college enrollment among 18- to 24-year-olds dipped only slightly from last year. Views on whether colleges and universities made the right decision in bringing students back to campus are deeply divided along party lines, with Republicans and those who lean to the Republican Party more than twice as likely as Democrats and Democratic leaners to say bringing students back was the right decision.
Long-term online learning in pandemic may impact students' well-being
Winter break and the start of next term are fast approaching. At this point, most colleges that have announced their plans for the spring are intending to continue their modality and residence choices from the fall. Many have brought students back to campus but are continuing most instruction online. Others have encouraged students to stay home. For students at colleges that have gone remote, that means they will likely experience over a year of online learning. Research has shown that remote learning can be as good or better than in-person learning for the students who choose it. But thousands of students will soon be entering their third semester of remote instruction despite having self-selected for an in-person college experience. With remote learning moving into the long term, experts say the mental, emotional and academic impacts of that shift are likely to be challenging. Amy Bintliff, a developmental psychologist and professor in the University of California, San Diego's department of education studies, said that mismatch between expectation and reality can be difficult for students. Part of that is because important milestones, like graduation, can't happen the way they were envisioned. Traditional-age students may struggle uniquely with the loss of certain coming-of-age experiences.
College students are weary of 'Zoom U.' But they're also trying to make the best of it.
The chemistry laboratory was buzzing one fall afternoon on a campus otherwise oddly quiet. One student measured heat transfer from burning diesel fuel in a steel container. Another tracked the movement of fluids using a curved glass instrument called a viscometer. Tola Abu followed the viscosity experiment through his computer, offering pointers once in a while and running calculations. He also found time to make a sandwich and watch television before the class ended. You can do that when you're not actually there. Abu, 21, a senior at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, is one of millions of college students forced to experience many, most or all classes online in a fall term that has become a gigantic national experiment in remote higher education. The coronavirus pandemic, which rocked colleges in March, is threatening to extend these extraordinary restrictions on face-to-face classes into next spring. Results so far suggest the enforced distance could take an increasingly steep toll on students who yearn for personal connections and are fatigued with the videoconferencing routine some mock as "Zoom U." Yet faculty and students have grown accustomed to the technology and pace of online learning, and many are figuring out how to maximize class participation and find value in a strange situation.
Colleges Slash Budgets in the Pandemic, With 'Nothing Off-Limits'
Ohio Wesleyan University is eliminating 18 majors. The University of Florida's trustees this month took the first steps toward letting the school furlough faculty. The University of California, Berkeley, has paused admissions to its Ph.D. programs in anthropology, sociology and art history. As it resurges across the country, the coronavirus is forcing universities large and small to make deep and possibly lasting cuts to close widening budget shortfalls. Though many colleges imposed stopgap measures such as hiring freezes and early retirements to save money in the spring, the persistence of the economic downturn is taking a devastating financial toll, pushing many to lay off or furlough employees, delay graduate admissions and even cut or consolidate core programs like liberal arts departments. Costs have also soared as colleges have spent millions on testing, tracing and quarantining students, only to face outbreaks. Other schools are laying the groundwork now for cuts they expect later. Trustees at the University of Florida took the first step in September to allow faculty furloughs to help close a projected $49 million shortfall from the coronavirus. Steve Orlando, a university spokesman, said the next step -- a formal furlough policy -- is expected to come to the board this year.
In a Bid to Diversify, Firms Expand Business-School Recruiting
Companies are recruiting more business students at historically Black colleges and universities this year in an attempt to diversify their talent pipelines. The business school at Howard University, a historically Black college, usually has 50 or so companies at its on-campus fall career fair, but this year hosted about 140 firms virtually, the school said. McKinsey & Co. is recruiting at about 30 historically Black schools, up from only a handful most years, the consulting firm said, while accounting firm KPMG said it has reached out to double the number of historically Black colleges and universities. Two things are fueling the uptick. One, the coronavirus pandemic has forced recruiting to take place virtually. Attending job interviews and career fairs online rather than in person is making it easier for companies to reach out to a wider variety of schools, including those with more Black students. It is unclear how permanent these recruiting changes will be, but some firms suggest elements of it will stick. Second, the national outcry over racial inequities following George Floyd's killing in May led companies to make commitments to diversify their workforces.
The Unique Challenges Faced By HBCU Students During COVID
Paul Quinn College President Michael J. Sorrell has been a leading advocate in higher education for students returning to in-person learning only when it is safe to do so. So while it was no surprise when he announced that our school's classes would continue remotely because of COVID concerns, our students, as well as those at other Historically Black Colleges and Universities, suddenly faced obstacles that students learning remotely at many other schools may not have encountered. Because 75% of Paul Quinn students are first-generation (even higher than the 60% first-gen rate at HBCUs nationally), one such hurdle came from the students' families, who often expected the students to resume the responsibilities they had before leaving for college. That included taking jobs to help with the family's financial needs (about 80% of our students qualify for Pell grants) or caring for an elderly grandparent or a younger sibling. Not surprisingly, these intergenerational responsibilities can be a huge distraction from remaining focused on schoolwork. That led to a second challenge -- students' mental health -- and specifically, anxiety and loneliness.
Black workers at universities often left out of conversations about race and higher education
Donald Moore has worked as a custodian at the University of Kentucky for nearly two decades. He likes the job and his coworkers. "I love being there, servicing students," he said. "Being of service to somebody else is the main focus of being there." But after 19 years, Moore still makes less than $15 an hour. He is 57. More than 400 miles away, in Columbia, Mo., the situation isn't much better for employees. In 2018 the state voted to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2023. But because of legal technicalities, the University of Missouri at Columbia wasn't legally obligated to pay that new minimum. So the administration said it wouldn't. That meant in 2019, some workers who cleaned the floors, served the food and cut the grass at Mizzou were making as little as $9.70 per hour. Dining hall workers were using the university food pantry to feed themselves. Nonacademic, nonadministrative staff members often are left out of conversations about higher education, race relations and campus climate. But these university workers are the wheels upon which a college runs. They are -- in nearly every sense of the word and on every kind of campus -- essential. They also tend to be poorly paid, underappreciated and disempowered. They are the first to be laid off and the last to be celebrated. At many, many institutions, a majority of these workers are people of color. At some, like Mizzou and Kentucky, the majority are Black. Often, these low-wage workers more accurately reflect the demographics of a college town than the students who attend it.
In Another Blow to Student Equity, Transfers to 2-Year Colleges Plunge
Community colleges that were counting on an influx of transfer students seeking an economical education closer to home faced a sobering surprise this fall, according to a report released on Tuesday. The number of so-called reverse transfers actually dropped steeply in a semester upended by the Covid-19 pandemic, says the report, from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Meanwhile, an unexpectedly high number of students followed the more common path of transferring from community colleges to four-year institutions. The double whammy that's hitting community-colleges as more students transfer out and fewer transfer in will hurt the disadvantaged students they serve especially hard, according to the authors of the report, "Covid-19: Transfer, Mobility, and Progress." The report is based on 9.2 million students, or nearly 54 percent of postsecondary institutions reporting to the clearinghouse as of September 24. The fact that more students are transferring to four-year colleges could mean that colleges are easing requirements that previously blocked students from doing that. Some are waiving grade requirements and accepting more credits for transfer, said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the research center. Four-year colleges may also be doing a better job with marketing and outreach than community colleges, which typically don't spend a great deal of time or money in those areas, Shapiro said

Mississippi State's Ron Polk regales Starkville Rotary Club with tales of past and present
Ron Polk's arrival at Mississippi State in 1976 was anything but glamorous. For a school that boasts 11 College World Series Appearances and 15 NCAA Regional Championships, Polk's hiring was an afterthought. So much so, the story announcing his appointment in The Clarion-Ledger was relegated to the 11th page of that day's paper. "I thought my contract was really good," Polk said. "Fifteen thousand dollars, that's what I made the first year as head coach at Mississippi State." In the decades since his hiring, Polk's become a living legend of sorts. He's spent 56 years in coaching, just recently ending a 12-year spell as a volunteer assistant at the University of Alabama-Birmingham to become a special assistant to MSU Athletic Director John Cohen -- one of his former players. Hired by MSU in an administrative capacity in January, Polk has spent the past few months amid the COVID-19 pandemic attending MSU athletic events when possible, smoking anywhere from seven to eight cigars per day and coaching summer collegiate baseball in the Honor the Game Wood Bat League in Meridian.
Mississippi State's K.J. Costello and Will Rogers to continue splitting No. 1 reps ahead of Alabama game
The Mississippi State quarterback conundrum remains ongoing. Speaking with the media Monday, head coach Mike Leach revealed that he anticipates Stanford graduate transfer K.J. Costello and freshman Will Rogers will continue sharing No. 1 reps for at least the next few days ahead of MSU's meeting with No. 2 Alabama on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. "I think they're neck and neck," Leach said. "We'll continue to split the reps this week for the first couple of practices." Though it's unclear on who becomes the starter Saturday at Alabama, past precedent suggests the battle between Costello and Rogers could carry deep into the 2020 campaign. Leach flip-flopped between quarterbacks Luke Falk and Tyler Hilinski throughout the 2017 season at Washington State. Just a sophomore at the time, Hilinski appeared in eight games, attempting 178 passes for seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, while Falk shouldered the heavier load with 534 passes to his name. Leach said Monday the parallel isn't exact, but there are some similarities between the 2017 conundrum and what he's facing in his first year in Starkville.
Alabama football offense facing toughest challenge in Mississippi State pass defense
As Alabama's offense has proliferated in its new pass-forward era, it has found a consistent foil. Only 10 times in the last 33 games has UA passed for two or fewer touchdowns; Mississippi State is one of just two schools responsible for two of those outings, and one of the three teams to hold UA to one or fewer touchdown passes in those 33 games. Saturday's game between No. 2 Alabama (5-0) and Mississippi State (1-3) is another battle of a high-flying Crimson Tide passing attack and a Bulldog defense that's stingy against the pass. UA enters the game second in the nation in yards per attempt (12.4), first in completion percentage (76.9) among teams that have played more than one game and tied for the national lead with four passes of 60 yards or more. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are 16th nationally in yards per attempt allowed (6.5) among those with at least four games played and lead the SEC with just eight pass plays of 20 yards or more allowed.
Southern Miss AD tells us when he'd like to hire a coach and how much he's willing to pay
The search to find a new Southern Miss football coach is about to hit full stride. Jay Hopson resigned as head coach on Sept. 7, giving USM athletic director Jeremy McClain ample time to ready a list of candidates as he prepares to find his replacement. Scotty Walden is in charge of the program on an interim basis and he's made it clear that he would like to be the full-time head coach. But the 2020 season has turned chaotic due to COVID-19 pandemic with the Golden Eagles sitting at 1-4 after having a pair of games postponed by the coronavirus. Walden returned to the office on Monday six days after testing positive and missing last week's 56-35 loss at Liberty. With Walden still trying to make a case to be considered for the job, McClain told the Sun Herald on Friday that he hopes to have a full-time head coach in place by the end of November. "(November is important) from the standpoint of wanting to get in front of the people we're interested in," McClain said. "There's been great interest and I'm not surprised by that at all.
MGCCC pauses football for 14 days due to COVID concerns
Mississippi Gulf Coast is pausing football operations for 14 days beginning Tuesday, Oct. 27, because of COVID-19 concerns. "We are extremely proud of the safety precautions we have in place here at MGCCC and within our athletic department," said Dr. Ladd Taylor, Vice President of the Perkinston Campus and George County Center. "This pause of football operations is being implemented in order to keep our student-athletes, coaches, and everyone associated with our football program safe, which is our No. 1 priority. We look forward to resuming football operations when it is safe to do so." Football activities will resume Nov. 10, which means the game scheduled for Nov. 5 against Jones will be rescheduled. Gulf Coast is working with the MACCC and Jones to determine that date. "Out of an abundance of caution, we've taken this action to continue to protect our student-athletes, coaches, fans and administrators," MACCC Commissioner Steve Martin said. "We will continue to monitor the situation as we move forward."
SEC fines Lane Kiffin over officiating complaints
The Southeastern Conference has fined Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin $25,000 for his complaints about officiating on social media. The league announced the fine on Monday, but also said the replay official should have stopped play to review the call after Mississippi's fourth-quarter kickoff appeared to have touched the right hand of Shaun Shivers. The Rebels recovered in the end zone but the on-field call was that Shivers didn't touch it and play wasn't halted for a review. It's unclear which social-media posts drew the fine but Kiffin did retweet one calling the officiating "a disgrace." Earlier Monday, Kiffin said he had spoken to SEC coordinator of officials John McDaid about the play. He said he was instructed not to publicly disclose the explanation given by McDaid. Auburn went on to win 35-28 on Bo Nix's 42-yard touchdown pass to Seth Williams with 1:11 left.
After LSU fan mugged in Tiger Stadium restroom, contract worker arrested
LSU Police on Monday announced the arrest of a man hired to help clean Tiger Stadium and accused him of beating and robbing a man in an arena bathroom. Officers said Gary Ramses Walker, 19, of 350 Delphine St., Baton Rouge, worked for a crew contracted to clean the stadium after the Tigers' game against South Carolina on Saturday. Walker was arrested on a count of second-degree robbery. Danny Dwyer had said in an interview with The Advocate on Sunday that he was beaten over the head and robbed after staying in the stadium following the game to listen to the Tigers' marching band. He said he was attacked in a restroom after three or four other men left the area. The arrest warrant says the manager of the custodial company that cleans Tiger Stadium was contacted by several employees who said Walker was bragging about the robbery.

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