Millions of American adults cannot access any type of higher education based on their location, according to a new study from the Urban Institute. Released last month, the report found that 3.1 million Americans, at least 1.3 percent of the adult population, live in a complete education desert: They have no public university available within 25 miles nor do they have broadband service to access online classes.
Although many studies have been conducted on physical access to higher education (16.3 percent of Americans do not live near postsecondary institutions), this study was the first to look into broadband’s impact on connectivity in higher education. “Complete education deserts,” according to the study, have insufficient access to the internet, defined as less than 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and three Mbps for uploads (the national average is 64 Mbps for downloads and 23 Mbps for uploads). Students in complete education deserts live more than 25 miles from a college that admits at least 75 percent of applicants.
These may be conservative estimates, the institute found. The researchers used the maximum advertised speeds from DSL providers to determine how many Americans lack internet access, even though actual speeds are sometimes half as fast. Although the study found that 2.2 percent of Americans lack sufficient internet speeds, a 2016 Federal Communications Commission report says the number is closer to 10 percent. According to the education study, two out of every three online deserts are physical ones as well, so the number of Americans living in complete education deserts is likely closer to 6 or 7 percent.
This phenomenon hits Native Americans the hardest: 11.8 percent live in complete education deserts and 22.6 percent live in physical education deserts. “This study demonstrates what many Native Americans, rural Americans, and other Americans living in education deserts already know: The internet has not untethered all of us from our geographic locations,” researchers said in the report. “As long as broadband access depends on geography, place still plays an important role in access to higher education.”
Living in an education desert affects education levels, income, and overall quality of life. The median income for an individual who does not live in an education desert was $15,000 more than a person who does not have access to higher education ($56,500 compared to $41,000).
People who live in education deserts are also 6 percent less likely to graduate from high school and 18 percent less likely to graduate from college. Only 45 percent of people in complete education deserts are currently enrolled in college, compared to 61 percent of people who live in an area with broadband and have access to local universities.
To bridge this gap, researchers suggest the federal government help increase broadband access by funding broadband deployment projects in rural areas. Once communities have faster internet speeds, colleges could help students access higher education by continuing to provide aid for books, supplies and transportation. Community colleges could also partner with selective public and private institutions in the area to create programs that allow students to ease into a four-year program after starting at a two-year college or receiving an associate degree.
Need to Impeach, a group committed to paving the way to impeach Donald Trump, founded by billionaire activist and ex-hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, has organized thousands of people to sign up to host impeachment-themed parties over President’s Day weekend. The parties, which are planned for Saturday, February 17, will take place in every state, according to Need to Impeach.
Since the organization launched last October, 4.7 million people have pledged their support to the cause, with more than 6,500 pledging to host impeachment parties. Some members of Congress plan to host parties, while other parties are taking place in citizens’ backyards and living rooms. But the message, raising awareness about the impeachable offenses the group believes Trump has committed while in office, remains the same.
Need to Impeach lists abusing pardon power; violating the emoluments clause; conspiring to commit crimes against the United States; undermining the freedom of the press; and obstruction of justice as reasons to impeach the president.
Steyer also recently hosted a panel of mental health experts in Washington who suggested that the 25th Amendment—which says the vice president will assume the presidency if the sitting president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”—is a possible avenue for removal from office, citing concerns over the president’s mental health impairing his judgment on nuclear weapons.
“Every day, there’s so much bad news, where the Constitution is being diminished, and certainly the White House is being diminished,” says Camron Assadi, who plans to host a party in Denver. “Face-to-face interaction can create a bond and create some solidarity. Congress as it is now obviously is not standing up to Trump or taking any action,” Assadi adds. “The White House and the executive [need to] be reined in.”
Public support for impeachment is growing. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from December, 41 percent of all Americans support impeachment hearings. Democrats are more enthusiastic about the measure, with 70 percent in favor.
“A big part of the campaign is about is educating our base, our digital army, and letting them know the information they need to contact their lawmakers and make sure [they] know what their constituents want,” says Erik Olvera, a Need to Impeach spokesperson.
But congressional leaders are unlikely to take action on the measure: The most recent House vote to impeach Trump garnered only 66 congressional Democrats. Other Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, argue that pushing an impeachment process now could have a negative impact on current investigations.
Need to Impeach organizers are also using this weekend’s parties as an opportunity to plan for the midterm elections. Democrats need to gain 24 seats to flip control of the House, and two to win a majority in the Senate.
Educators struggle to teach their students about the nuances of slavery, its crucial role in shaping U.S. history, and its lasting impact on African Americans, according to a new study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The organization surveyed 1,000 high school seniors across the U.S. Only 8 percent of students could identify slavery as the root cause of the Civil War; 68 percent did not know that slavery ended after Congress passed and the states ratified the 13th Amendment.
Despite a willingness to bring these topics into their classrooms, 40 percent of teachers believe that they receive insufficient instructional support from their state education departments to teach students about slavery.
Virginia first mentions slavery in its state curriculum in second grade, when students learn Abraham Lincoln was the “president of the United States who helped to free American slaves.” That lesson comes two years after students learn about Martin Luther King Jr. According to the study, that oversight means that they have no way to understand the history behind the fight for civil rights.
In Alabama, slavery isn’t mentioned until third or fourth grade, when students learn that it was a cause of the Civil War. Presenting slavery as only one of many causes, the study said, is “a disingenuous representation that obscures slavery’s central role in causing the Civil War.”
Another 58 percent of teachers find their textbooks to be a problem when covering slavery. Textbooks used in Alabama say that a fight for “states’ rights” was the primary cause of the Civil War. When the textbook’s authors mention Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, they highlight his military exploits and ignore that he was the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
But even when teachers recognize these issues, they struggle with the right approach to the topic. Teachers interviewed for the study mentioned that re-enactments of the Middle Passage and slave auctions are some of the ways to teach their students. Some teachers even report giving their students “slave names” and tying their hands behind their backs. “A discussion follows,” one teacher said, “between the two groups of students [slaves and slaveowners] as to how they felt and why things were done this way.”
Yet that kind of role-playing may not be the best method to use as a white teacher in the Bronx discovered earlier this month when she instructed students lie on the floor during a lesson on slavery. These lessons “cannot begin to convey the horror of slavery and risk trivializing the subject in the minds of students,” according to the study. Such activities can be especially traumatizing for black students.
Textbooks and lesson plans also fail to address white supremacy’s role in the institution of slavery, even though the study says “the American ideology of white supremacy … developed precisely to justify the perpetuation of slavery.” Because students aren’t taught about racism and its legacy, they fail to understand issues like police violence or mass incarceration today.
“Our interest in education about slavery isn’t just about good history education,” Kate Shuster, an independent education researcher who authored the report, said in the introduction to the study. “We are convinced that students cannot fully understand the current state of race relations in the United States if they do not understand the history and extent of American slavery.”
To combat the lack of resources and help teachers better incorporate the history of slavery into their curriculum, the SPLC and Teaching Tolerance created a guide that includes a framework for instruction and a library of primary sources. The study also recommends using historical documents in classroom instruction and strengthening state curriculum frameworks. The SPLC also suggested that to help students better understand the topic, textbooks need to convey more of the realities of slavery and present the lasting impact of African cultures and ideas.
International students vote with their feet. For the first time in more than a decade, university admissions officials reported a decrease in the number of applications to graduate school programs from international students, according to a recent Council of Graduate Schools study. Researchers found that international graduate applications declined by 3 percent and first-time enrollments declined by 1 percent from the fall of 2016 to the fall of 2017.
The study singled out new immigration policies, such as Trump’s eight-country travel ban, as a major factor discouraging international students from studying in the United States. “The graduate education community remains concerned that the ban—in its substance and rhetoric—might have hampered the global competitiveness of the United States and its ability to attract the best and brightest prospective international graduate students,” researchers found.
The sharpest decreases occurred among Middle Eastern and North African students: In the fall of 2017, applications from those countries declined 17 percent. University officials also saw an 18 percent decrease in applications from Iranian students (first-time enrollment decreased by 16 percent). Applications from Saudi Arabian students also decreased by 21 percent, but Saudi students accepted offers to study in the United States at a significantly higher rate than Iranian students (40 percent compared with 17 percent), suggesting that Trump’s travel ban and his harsh rhetoric toward Iran may have alienated Iranian students. Applications from Canadian, Chinese, Indian, and Mexican students applying to American graduate programs also declined.
The only increase in applications came from European students (up by 18 percent) and students from sub-Saharan African countries (up by 12 percent).
Although overall applications declined in fall 2017, international acceptances rose slightly compared with the previous academic year, from 16 percent to 17 percent. The study credits efforts made by individual institutions “to ensure that [students] feel welcome” despite the uncertainty surrounding U.S. immigration policy.
There are currently more than one million international students (about 25 percent of all graduate students) enrolled in American colleges; ten years ago, there were fewer than 650,000.
Tuition costs are sky-high. According to the College Board, the average yearly cost of attending a two-year community college in 2016 was $11,580. For a public four-year university, the cost was $20,090 per year and the private university sticker price was $45,370. These costs are alarming enough, but what’s even more shocking is that increasing numbers of low-income students try to save money by sacrificing meals. Founded in 2013, the College and University Food Bank Alliance had roughly 600 member schools in mid-January; two years ago, the group had less than 200.
In December, the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, a Madison-based organization that studies ways to produce more equitable outcomes in postsecondary education, published “Going Without: An Exploration of Food and Housing Insecurity Among Undergraduates.” The report found that at least 50 percent of two- and four-year college students struggle with food insecurity.
College students are at a higher risk for food insecurity than the general population. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that just 12.3 percent of households were food insecure, which puts college students well above the national average. In a survey conducted by researchers from Southern Illinois University, 35 percent of students at four public universities reported low or very low food security, while another 23 percent reported marginal food insecurity. Only 42 percent of students were considered food secure.
Food insecurity among community college students is especially alarming: The HOPE Lab found that 20 percent of students had very low food security, meaning they reduced their food intake, sometimes for days at a time, to save money.
Unlike public elementary and secondary schools, which provide low-income students with free and reduced lunches, free transportation, and free (although limited) health screenings, college students often fend for themselves because there are few federal or state assistance programs for nutrition or other necessities “even though,” as HOPE lab researchers concluded in a 2014 report, “policymakers and educators say that college should be viewed as a mere extension of high school, a necessity for a stable life and strong national economy.”
Earlier this month, Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed opening a food pantry at every state college or coming up with another “stigma-free” way students can gain access to food. Sara Goldrick-Rab, a HOPE Lab researcher, told CNN that while this move is a “big deal,” it’s still more like a “Band-Aid” than a solution.
Postsecondary institutions should help make food and other basic necessities available to low-income students by revamping college tuition assistance programs and providing additional financial resources such as discounted or free meal plans. Without decisive action, food insecurity will continue to be a harsh fact of life on America’s college campuses.