BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The Louisiana Board of Regents met virtually Wednesday, April 22 to approve emergency rules addressing admissions, placement, and dual enrollment for students attending public colleges and universities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In mid-March, most college campuses were closed and classes were moved online to help slow the spread of the virus. The Board of Regents worked with the state’s four university systems (Louisiana State University System, Southern University System, University of Louisiana System, and Louisiana Community & Technical College System) to create policy changes in response to the crisis. Some of these changes include removing barriers to student enrollment, progression and completion resulting in test cancellations, such as the ACT, and the waiving of standardized tests at the state level for high school graduation.
“There isn’t an institution of higher education that is not knocking it out of the park. They’ve stepped up in a tremendous way," said Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed.
Reed also emphasized the vital role higher education has played during the COVID-19 crisis by not only continuing its priority mission of continued learning through online course delivery, but also using its resources and expertise to assist the state’s emergency response. System representatives shared how effectively colleges and universities identified and eliminated barriers to student success and how they continue to use data and feedback to make necessary adjustments in a rapidly changing environment. In the wake of the COVID-19 transition to remote learning, Regents specifically provided:
- Information on online course programming
- A digest of resources to support remote learning
- Open Educational Resources
- Access to surplus laptops
- A statewide map illustrating access to free, public WiFi for drive-in studying opportunities
In addition, Regents established a Digital Inclusion Committee charged with addressing the immediate and long-term challenges resulting from Louisiana’s well-established digital divide. The committee compiled survey results from campuses which identified barriers to online course success and shared best practices among stakeholders. Looking ahead, Regents can use the data to prioritize spending of federal CARES Act dollars and inform continued conversations on improved delivery. Findings of the survey include:
- 90% of students have engaged with their established digital learning platforms since the transition to online delivery of coursework
- Some campuses have seen a decrease in course withdraws compared to 2019
- As many as 11,000 computers, laptops and web cams could be needed for students/faculty
- Many students lack access to high speed internet or broadband and experience general connectivity issues
- Professional development opportunities for faculty and students to build capacity for more effective remote learning are critical to success
To address these concerns in the short-term, campuses and systems have:
- Engaged foundations, used grant funding and shifted departmental budgets to support the purchase of laptops for both students and faculty (50 to 200 purchased per campus)
- Established library laptop and webcam loan programs so students can check out the equipment they need
- Identified state surplus laptops that were repaired, re-imaged and redeployed for student use
- Shared cellular data provider solutions with students and faculty
- Paired experienced online facilitators with subject matter experts to assist in teaching challenging courses online
- Employed low-tech distance learning techniques when necessary including recording lectures, and printing packets for pick up
“So far, these stop-gap measures have proven extremely successful and the survey gives us great hope that students are persisting and adapting,” said Reed. “We know our talent development imperative is not paused during a pandemic. In fact, it is amplified,” Reed said.
Regents’ finance staff met with the four system chief financial officers nine times between September of 2019 and February of 2020 to discuss changes to the funding formula for higher education. The system presidents and the commissioner agreed to the following changes:
- Two-Year Smoothing of Student Credit Hours (SCHs)
- Annual Data Points Updates for Base Credit
- Underrepresented Minority Cost Adjustment
- Tiered Support for Underrepresented Minority and Pell Completers
Due to uncertainty around the timing of the legislative session that is currently suspended and the State General Fund (SGF) forecast for FY21, Regents today (April 22) granted the executive committee the ability to approve the formula allocation with the board to ratify the distribution of SGFs to the management boards for the next fiscal year at a later date.
Louisiana’s public post-secondary institutions will receive $147.1 million through the federal CARES Act, for COVID relief with first priority given to emergency financial aid grants to students. Campuses are required to allocate no less than 50% of their funding to student emergency support. Eligible expenses include food, housing, course materials, technology, healthcare, and child care. Precise methodologies are still being developed by the systems based on U.S. Department of Education guidance received April 21.
The balance of the CARES Act funds ($73.5M) are provided to campuses to cover COVID-19 related costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction, with some limited exceptions, which have been shared with the system chief financial officers. No maintenance of effort is required and the funds must be spent on the allowable uses within one year. Remaining CARES Act funds include a Governor’s Emergency Education Fund of $50.3M.
This portion requires a maintenance of effort and can be used by K-12 institutions, higher education institutions serving students, and an any other education entity deemed essential by the governor for carrying out education services. Additionally, an estimated $40M will be allocated to minority serving institutions to defray COVID-19 expenses and lost revenue as well as provide grants to students. The chart reflects the funding allocated by the U.S. Department of Education to each public post-secondary institution. The overall methodology used to allocate stimulus funding provided that 90% of the total go to qualifying institutions based on their Pell/Non-Pell Full-Time Equivalent enrollment.
Regents adopted revised guidance for completion of dual enrollment courses in light of disruptions caused by the closure of K-12 schools and the transition to online delivery models at higher education institutions. The policy allows high school students, in consultation school leadership, to choose one of the following 3 options for Spring 2020 relative to the college credit portion of each course:
- Complete the college coursework online during the Spring semester 2020 with a final grade
- Transition the course status to “In Progress”/”Incomplete” and complete by August 31
- Withdraw from the college course via an “Administrative Withdrawal"
Additionally, due to the cancellation of standardized testing across the state as well as postponement of ACT testing nationwide, Regents adopted the following guidelines for dual enrollment participation during the 2020-21 school year. To be eligible, students must achieve:Regents hosted a webinar on April 9, 2020, in partnership with K12 stakeholders, to share implementation processes for this policy and answer questions from school districts across the state. More than 500 educators participated in this webinar.
In response to the rapidly evolving impact on secondary and post-secondary education of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Board of Regents approved emergency guidelines for admissions and placement due to the cancellation or postponement of standardized tests whose scores are used in determining student eligibility. Developed in close consultation with the Louisiana Department of Education, system chief academic officers and the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Aid (LOSFA), the updates address alternative criteria for placement into college courses and admission to post-secondary institutions. Current minimum admission criteria do not require ACT scores for admissions only for Math and English placement. Students who have met the Regents Core and GPA (Flagship: 3.0; Statewide: 2.5 and Regional: 2.0), but have no ACT or SAT score on file to demonstrate proficiency in English and Math may meet subscore admissions or placement criteria by:
- Successfully completing post-secondary departmental exams and/or placement assessments at the institution where they plan to enroll, (see table below) OR
- Successfully completing placement assessments offered by community colleges and submitting scores to the institution where they plan to enroll (see table below) OR
- In keeping with Regents’ Minimum Admissions Criteria policy, institutions can still evaluate for other factors in addition to minimum admissions requirements. Institutions with applicants who have not met the minimum test score requirements, or have no scores available as required by the Board of Regents Minimum Admissions Criteria for First-Time Freshmen, may rely on other factors, such as trends in academic performance, rigor of coursework, challenging high school curriculum, class rank, special talents or quality of extracurricular activities, to determine final admission OR
- Enrolling in co-requisite support in course(s) where the student is deficient
Incoming students from non-English speaking countries who do not have access to the TOEFL or IELTS English proficiency exams (per Academic Affairs 2.18) due to disruptions caused by COVID-19, may meet English proficiency requirements through the Duolingo English exam if accepted by the institution. Scores on the Duolingo English exam must be concorded and comparable to the current TOEFL and IELTS minimum scores needed to indicate proficiency.Regents hosted a webinar last week for close to 200 higher education stakeholders outlining implementation of these emergency policies to offer clear guidance and answer any campus questions.
Graduating high school seniors are being encouraged to fill out their financial aid forms through a social media campaign, FASFA Now! More information can be found at https://tinyurl.com/FAFSANowLaunch. Virtual assistance for FAFSA completion is available by texting LOSFA to 50065, using #GeauxFAFSA on social media, or emailing GeauxFAFSA@la.gov. The “Stay Home and Be Counted at Your College” census campaign is receiving great support statewide. It is important that college students fill out the census using their college address, where they would have been living on April 1.
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