higher education

Most colleges and universities are planning to welcome students back to campus in just a few weeks. The schools bring a range of approaches – from testing to quarantines to allowing for remote learning. There is no single handbook for running higher education during a pandemic, but most universities in the Rochester/Finger Lakes region believe they can do it with sufficient safety and planning.

So what are those plans? We hear the approach from four different institutions. Our guests:

Brighton graduate Toby Merrill was named to Time Magazine's list of the "100 Next." That's because Merrill has been a leader in the fight against predatory for-profit colleges and institutions. As student debt piled past one trillion dollars, Merrill launched a plan to combat what she calls the "worst-of-the-worst student debt." Merrill is the founder and director of Harvard Law School's Project on Predatory Student Lending. Her team represents thousands of former students who have been fleeced and lied to, often ending up with piles of debt and worthless degrees. One of her most recent cases named Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as a defendant.

We discuss the plight of student loan debt, the worst offenders, and why the industry is still so profitable. Our guest:

"Why not take a blank piece of paper and think about how best to conduct education?” That question comes from a new team at the University of Rochester charged with re-imagining the university. Project Imagine is considering changes to the academic calendar, a reorganization from traditional departments and colleges to interdisciplinary centers, and other big ideas. Project Imagine co-leader Dr. Ray Dorsey says now is a good time to go back to square one and explore if there are better ways to operate beyond the pandemic.

The committee is looking for community feedback and ideas. We explore some of them and invite listeners to weigh in with our guests:

  • Dr. Ray Dorsey, M.D., David M. Levy Professor of Neurology and director of the Center for Health and Technology at the University of Rochester Medical Center
  • Julia Maddox, director of the Barbara J. Burger iZone at the University of Rochester Libraries

A number of area colleges and universities have announced they plan to reopen in the fall. Their plans come with modifications to the academic calendar, online courses, and policies that address physical distancing and safety guidelines. Meanwhile, students, faculty, and parents have questions and concerns about what to anticipate.

We talk with the presidents of three local colleges about what they’re expecting for their institutions. Our guests:

Psychiatrists and mental health counselors across the country say college students are facing a campus mental health "epidemic." NPR reported on the issue last year, and now, with the pandemic shutting down campuses and pushing students to online learning at home, many may face additional challenges.

The SUNY system has created a task force to enhance mental health support and services for students. This hour, we discuss the work of that group, and how the pandemic is impacting students' mental health. Our guests:

  • Kate Wolfe-Lyga, director of the Counseling Services Center at SUNY College at Oswego
  • B. Janet Hibbs, family and couples psychotherapist, and co-author of "The Stressed Years of Their Lives"
  • Brigid Cahill, director of the University Counseling Center at the University of Rochester
  • Stephanie Guilin, student at Monroe Community College, and mental health advocate

In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, Brown University president Christina Paxson wrote that it won't be easy, but college campuses must reopen in the fall. She points to the financial, practical, and psychological barriers students would face learning remotely -- especially low income students who lack sufficient access to technology -- and what could be a catastrophic financial toll on the universities themselves.

Meanwhile, some students and professors who say reopening would pose too much of a health risk on campus communities.

So what's the plan? Our guests share updates from their institutions:

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a number of challenges for institutions of higher education. Students are learning remotely, and faculty are doing their best to provide virtual lessons. Some colleges and universities are also facing unexpected financial issues. The University of Rochester, for example, has announced that it is taking financial belt tightening measures.

This hour, we talk with the leaders of local colleges and universities about their concerns, their priorities, and how they see their institutions adapting in the short and long term. Our guests:

Photo provided by Jamie Tario of SUNY Empire State College

SUNY Empire State College is launching the Empire Opportunity Program for the 2020 academic year. 

The program offers financial aid and academic support to up to 60 students for classes both online and on campus in Buffalo. It is geared toward working students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Dana Brown, director of the program, said the aim is to enrich the lives of students who may not otherwise have access to higher education.


Inside Higher Ed reports that more institutions now have chief diversity officers than ever before. But what do those positions entail? How do colleges and universities make decisions about the roles and responsibilities of diversity offices, and how do they measure results when it comes to creating more diverse and inclusive campus communities?

This hour, we’re joined by local chief diversity officers who share how their institutions are providing structural responses to cultural issues. In studio:

  • Cephas Archie, chief diversity officer at the College at Brockport
  • Calvin Gantt, chief diversity officer at Monroe Community College
  • Keith Jenkins, vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion at RIT
  • Diane Ariza, vice president for community and belonging at Nazareth College

A growing number of American college professors are changing the way they grade students. In particular, some are engaging an evaluation method referred to as "ungrading."

We sit down with a local professor who decided to stop scoring papers this year and instead, write lengthy comments and meet individually with students. He's trying to change the power dynamics and the grading methods that he has come to believe are ineffective.

We discuss this new approach with our guests: