Some U.S. colleges stick to in-person reopening in pandemic despite doubts, pushback

By Jan Wolfe and Catherine Koppel

(Reuters) – Many U.S. universities are revamping campuses to resume in-person classes despite COVID-19, requiring students to be tested, wear masks and socially distance, but some college town residents and critics say schools are putting profits before public safety.

Tulane University, a private college in New Orleans, plans to reopen on Aug. 19 to as many as 13,000 students. Before students move in to dormitories, they must report to an “Arrival Center” at a city hotel “where they will be guided through two days consisting of COVID-19 testing and orientation sessions” according to Tulane’s published guidance.

Maintenance workers at Tulane and other colleges are fitting auditoriums and classrooms with signage for social distancing. Students are being asked to wear masks, and at Tulane, those who host parties or gatherings with more than 15 people could face expulsion, the college said.

Rice University in Houston, Texas has contracted for 60,000 COVID-19 tests, and has bought temporary structures and open-sided tents for classes and meeting space.

Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, will require that students enter into a “behavioral compact” aimed at stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 162,000 people in the United States and infected over five million.

Tulane president Michael Fitts said enrollment has been largely unaffected by the pandemic.

“The interest in sort of the classic, undergraduate, on-ground experience has never been stronger,” he said.

While college presidents like Fitts say public health is paramount, some industry experts point to schools’ powerful financial motivation to be on campus and in residences because of auxiliary revenue from services such as dining halls, bookstores, and vending machines.

“I don’t think it’s only about money – but it leads with money,” higher education researcher Jeff Selingo said. “Their entire business model, including their financial stability, is predicated on bringing people together in close proximity.”

HYBRIDS

Some colleges, however, are lowering the number of people allowed on campus to reduce risk of contagion, offering hybrids of in-person and online learning or altering the academic year’s structure.

When the novel coronavirus shook the world back in March, U.S. colleges almost uniformly shut down, dormitories emptied and classes moved online.

“What we are seeing this fall is a million different scenarios,” Selingo said.

In late May, about two-thirds of U.S. colleges and universities said they were planning to resume in-person instruction in the fall, according to data compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education. That number declined to about 50 percent as of late July.

Johns Hopkins University, a research institution in Baltimore, Maryland, is one of several schools that abandoned plans to have students return to campus.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic is worsening,” Johns Hopkins President Ronald Daniels said in an Aug. 6 letter. “We have concluded that returning in person would pose unacceptable risks.”

Cornell, which has about 23,000 students, has said that in-person classes actually will result in fewer coronavirus cases than a virtual semester.

Thousands of students live off-campus, and many have indicated they will return to Ithaca even if classes are online, Cornell president Martha Pollack said in an Aug. 5 letter.

Resuming campus life makes it easier to monitor and test those students, wrote Pollack, who declined to be interviewed for this article.

Students, for example, will have to fill out a daily online health assessment as part of a behavioral compact and will face penalties, including suspension, for misleading the school.

Still, Cornell’s plan has drawn objections from some Ithaca residents. Ri Bornstein, an artist and administrative assistant, said townspeople have kept the virus under control by acting responsibly and that some students who already have returned to campus are not.

“Cornell is saying people will act appropriately, but then I look outside and see frat parties,” Bornstein said.

“They are enacting the plan that’s about the most possible profit for them,” he asserted, saying Cornell’s modeling seems questionable and self-serving.

Pollack’s letter said that the reopening plan was driven by science, not financial considerations.

Pollack said that while there could be more than a thousand coronavirus cases during the coming semester, online learning would result in several thousand infections, according to statistical modeling done by Cornell data scientist Peter Frazier.

“As we all have learned, there are no perfect solutions to this deeply imperfect situation,” she said. “All we can do is strive our hardest for the best solutions we can find.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Catherine Koppel; editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)

Exclusive: How elite U.S. college students brought Covid-19 home from campus

By Anna Irrera and Steve Stecklow

(Reuters) – Like many American colleges, Vanderbilt University in Nashville announced last month it was closing its dormitories and putting classes online because of the growing threat of coronavirus. It said it was acting “out of an abundance of caution” after a local healthcare worker had tested positive for the disease.

The message was lost on many students.

Before leaving campus and returning to their homes and families throughout the United States and abroad, more than 100 Vanderbilt students attended parties, ignoring the school’s explicit instructions not to do so. They crowded into apartment complexes and other locations, and posed for group pictures they posted on Instagram. Many celebrated St. Patrick’s Day six days early – on the same day New York City announced it was cancelling its traditional annual parade.

One photo of a March 11 party, posted on Instagram and seen by Reuters, shows a student in a makeshift hazmat suit, a black mask and green bowler hat with shamrocks, as a large group of students party in the background. “I dare you to give me corona,” reads the picture’s caption. The photo’s location jokingly claims to be “Wuhan, China” — the origin of the global pandemic.

Some Vanderbilt students later learned they were infected with the virus, known as COVID-19. A private online group of students who say they have contracted coronavirus had 107 members this week, with most stating they had mild or moderate symptoms, according to posts seen by Reuters. Vanderbilt University Medical Center, an independent hospital near the campus, also reported 86 employees have tested positive for coronavirus to date, according to a spokeswoman.

The example of Vanderbilt – a prestigious, private research institution in America’s South – shows that risky behavior by some young people extended far beyond the spring break mob scenes on Florida beaches that emerged last month. It illustrates the role students at some colleges – particularly those with a global footprint – have played in the pandemic.

Other colleges have also reported coronavirus outbreaks. Forty-four students at the University of Texas at Austin tested positive for the disease after returning from spring break in Mexico, according to a state university spokeswoman. In March, the University of Tampa said five students traveling together during spring break had tested positive.

In a statement, Vanderbilt said: “Just as for our peers around the country, COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for our community as we have sought, above all, to protect the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff. Vanderbilt has regularly communicated with our community about the essential steps the university is taking, and that they must take, to limit the spread of disease.”

The university declined to answer questions about how many students have contracted coronavirus, citing federal student privacy law.

TRAVELS IN EUROPE

Vanderbilt began its spring break earlier than many schools. It took place between Feb. 29 and March 8, a time in which the pandemic, which began in China, was beginning to seriously affect Europe, but hadn’t yet significantly hit the United States.

“Vandy” is an elite school with a large cohort of well-to-do students. Many travel abroad during spring break, especially Europe. They often visit other Vanderbilt students attending study-abroad programs.

On Feb. 25, Vanderbilt warned students not to travel to China or South Korea – two coronavirus hot spots – and to reconsider making non-essential trips to other countries with serious outbreaks. International students were advised not to leave the United States at all.

One country that hadn’t yet reported many cases was Spain. Max Schulman, a Vanderbilt junior, said he traveled to Barcelona with more than a dozen classmates and estimated that about 50 Vanderbilt students in all were there during spring break. Spain has since emerged as one of the epicenters of the global outbreak.

Schulman said he felt tired, restless and “delirious” on his flight back. Instead of returning to campus, he went to his family’s home in Long Island, New York, and later tested positive for coronavirus.

Other Vanderbilt students who traveled to Spain and other European countries returned to the Nashville campus.

On March 8, an online petition started by Chinese first-year student Yihan Li asked Vanderbilt to cancel classes to protect students’ health, as the number of infections in the Nashville area slowly rose. “There have been two confirmed cases in Nashville and our students are returning from all over the world after the spring break,” the petition stated. “It is at great risk to hold classes as normal.” More than 2,000 people signed. Vanderbilt has about 12,000 full-time undergraduate and graduate students, according to its website.

The same day, the university informed students that there were no confirmed cases on campus. It also noted that an unidentified student who had studied abroad but hadn’t returned to Nashville had tested positive. The announcement followed a story in the campus newspaper, the Vanderbilt Hustler, that a student in a program in Italy had later tested positive in Chicago.

Classes resumed on Monday, March 9. By the end of the day, the school disclosed that several students on campus reported they had been exposed to an unidentified individual who tested positive that day. It announced it was cancelling classes for the rest of the week and would soon move them online through March. The announcement added: “To be clear, the university will remain open.”

At the time, scores of other American colleges and universities were taking steps to cancel classes and switch to online instruction, according to data compiled by Bryan Alexander, a senior scholar at Georgetown University.

A picture of Vanderbilt’s announcement appeared on a satirical Instagram account with this comment: “Let spring break pt. 2 begin.” That night, some students began partying to both commiserate and celebrate over the end of classes, one student told Reuters.

On March 10, Vanderbilt issued a warning to campus residents: “There should be no parties/gatherings; students are encouraged to maintain social distance and minimize interactions with others.” The college was two days ahead of Nashville’s mayor in urging social distancing.

Some seniors worried their college days were coming to an abrupt end and the campus would soon clear out, students said. Their fears soon came true: On March 11, Vanderbilt told students that a healthcare worker at Vanderbilt University Medical Center had tested positive and classes would go on line for the rest of the semester. Undergraduates living on campus should leave within four days.

PARTY TIME

Planned St. Patrick’s Day parties were moved up. The event is an annual tradition for many Vanderbilt students, who refer to it as “St Fratty’s” because many parties are held at fraternity houses.

“We’re all here and we’re ready to fire one last time before our college careers are ended” by coronavirus, stated one Facebook post announcing an off-campus St Patrick’s Day party. Several students who attended the party later tested positive for coronavirus, according to a student. Reuters could not independently confirm this.

Another “St Fratty’s” celebration kicked off in the rooftop courtyard of Wesley Place apartments, a residential complex that is home to third-year and fourth-year students. Instagram pictures depict clusters of students clad in green, chatting in close proximity, drinking from beer cans and red cups, and posing together for pictures.

In one photo, a group of seven young women dressed in green huddle together, hugging and holding hands. A photo collage posted by Vanderbilt’s chapter of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority showed small groups of young, green-clad women smiling, hugging and posing for pictures. The sorority didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Following the Wesley Place party, students dispersed to other locations, including off-campus fraternity houses and another apartment complex, according to students and social media posts.

One video shows several dozen students in a backyard dancing, hugging and drinking. Text overlaying the video reads, “Schools out forever,” while the caption reads, “the luck of the Irish did not grace Vanderbilt this st frattys.”

That same day, March 11, three news developments smashed America’s complacency about the disease. President Donald Trump imposed a 30-day ban on foreigners traveling from Europe, the National Basketball Association suspended its season, and movie star Tom Hanks announced he and his wife had tested positive for coronavirus in Australia.

Some Vanderbilt students soon were reporting in private chat groups that they had contracted coronavirus.

A private group called “Covid Family” that consists of students who said they had contracted the virus grew to 107 members. In one poll of 80 students, a dozen answered “yes” to whether they had coronavirus, according to a screenshot. Reuters couldn’t determine if the self-reported diagnoses were accurate.

One infected student interviewed by Reuters attended off-campus parties and experienced symptoms on March 15 after returning home. The student’s mother also developed mild symptoms. The student said the exact source of the infection was impossible to know.

Sophia Yan, a first-year Vanderbilt student from China, told Reuters she found out she had contracted coronavirus upon returning home to the Chinese city of Shenzhen on March 17. She said she didn’t attend any parties on campus, leading her to suspect the virus was more widespread at Vanderbilt than students and the administration realize.

She said she believes the university should have required students to report all their travels during spring break and released information about any who had tested positive, such as their whereabouts and what classes they attended.

“Unfortunately, Vanderbilt’s lack of effective measures largely reflects how the United States as a whole is dealing with this crisis,” she said. “To combat this pandemic, U.S. federal and state governments, as well as the American people, must recognize the severity and urgency of the matter.”

Vanderbilt didn’t respond to a specific question about Yan’s comments.

But it said because of federal student privacy law, “we are unable to disclose widely within the Vanderbilt community personally identifiable information about any student who has tested positive for COVID-19.”

Netra Rastogi, a Vanderbilt sophomore, doesn’t fault the administration. “I don’t think they realized that so many students at Vanderbilt wouldn’t take this whole situation seriously.”

(reporting by Anna Irrera and Steve Stecklow; editing by Janet McBride)

Local hero: Florida hotelier Harris Rosen keeps his giving close to home

By Beth Pinsker

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Harris Rosen has a chain of eight hotels bearing his name in the Orlando area, but he makes most of his headlines these days for giving away his fortune.

The 80-year-old entrepreneur of Rosen Hotels & Resorts, who grew up on the Lower East Side of New York, adopted the Tangelo Park neighborhood near his hotels and has paid for preschool programs and college for local students. Among some of his other many causes: He endowed the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, and he has been involved in charity efforts in Haiti, the home country of many of his staff.

Rosen’s business also recently expanded its generous, self-funded health plan called RosenCare to cover the health clinic for teachers in Osceola County.

Rosen spoke to Reuters about how he came to make his fortune and then give it away.

Q: Who first taught you money values?

A: It came from my two granddads. Both of them came from Eastern Europe. One had a little restaurant on Lower East Side; the other made wooden barrels.

When my mom and dad got married, they went into business together to purchase little apartments where immigrants stayed. Unfortunately, there was a fairly significant depression in 1920s. They lost everything because they would not ask anyone to leave.

One night they came over, and said, essentially, you have something in your genes. You are going to be a businessperson, but don’t ever borrow money.

I’ve lived with that all my life: I’m going to be a businessperson, and I can’t borrow money. That’s impossible! The first hotel I bought, I put down $20,000 and assumed a $2.5 million mortgage.

I will tell you now with great pride 45 years later, though, with 7,000 rooms, we don’t have a penny of debt.

Q: What did your first job teach you?

A: When I was 10, I overheard fishermen talking about how badly they needed worms. So I went into the night crawler business. I hunted them with a flashlight, and then arrived early at fishing pier.

I learned that you try to find something that people need and want, charge a fair price and save as much as you can.

Q: Once you got some money together, what was your investing philosophy?

A: One of the first stocks I bought was Avon, because I met some of the ladies who ran the company. They said, “Harris, Buy the stock.” I couldn’t buy more than 10-15 shares, but I’d look at Avon every morning, and I did very well.

Then I bought Automatic Data Processing, because the grandmother of the company founder worked as a clerk in their sales office at the Waldorf Astoria where I also worked.

I don’t think I’ve owned anything other than my company for about maybe 45 years. I invest only in Rosen.

Q: When did you start getting very generous with employee benefits?

A: Early on, about 30 years ago, I discovered I wasn’t very happy with our whole health plan. I didn’t understand why our premiums would go up year after year.

We had a tiny little office where our accounting folks stayed, but they outgrew it. I said, we’ll convert it to primary care health center. I called a friend who knew insurance and said, ‘Help me start my own insurance company.’ Then I said: ‘Let’s look for a doctor.’

We focus on keeping people healthy.

Q: You have many charity projects, how do you decide how to give away your money?

A: About 25 years ago, sitting at my desk, I heard a voice and it said, “Harris, you have been blessed beyond anything you imagined, and now it would be appropriate to offer a helping hand to those in need.”

Q: How do you pass along this legacy of giving to your children and grandchildren?

A: I just think they need to do the kind of work that they enjoy. They need to be honest and treat people with respect, and if they are in the position to become philanthropic, what they need to do is express that generosity by helping others.

I’m very happy with the way things are working out. I love the opportunity that I have had to offer a helping hand to so many people.

(Follow us @ReutersMoney or at http://www.reuters.com/finance/personal-finance. Editing by Lauren Young and Cynthia Osterman)

Teenager kills 17 in Crimea college shooting: Russian officials

Flowers are seen placed at a memorial by the Kremlin walls to commemorate the victims of a fatal attack on a college in the Crimean port city of Kerch, in Moscow, Russia October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

By Polina Nikolskaya and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

MOSCOW (Reuters) – At least 17 people were killed and dozens injured at a college in the Black Sea region of Crimea on Wednesday when a student went through the building shooting at fellow pupils before killing himself, Russian law enforcement officials said.

Eighteen-year-old Vladislav Roslyakov turned up at the college in the city of Kerch on Wednesday afternoon carrying a firearm and then began shooting, investigators said. His body was later found in the college with what they said were self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

There were no immediate clues as to his motive in mounting such an attack, which recalled similar shooting sprees carried out by students in U.S. schools.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, prompting international condemnation and Western sanctions, but since then there have been no major outbreaks of violence there.

Many of the victims from Wednesday’s attacks were teenage students who suffered shrapnel and bullet wounds.

Pupils and staff described scenes of mayhem as panicked pupils tried to flee the building. They said the attack had started with an explosion, followed by more blasts, and a hail of gunfire.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a meeting in the southern Russian resort of Sochi with his Egyptian counterpart, declared a moment’s silence for the victims.

“This is a clearly a crime,” he said. “The motives will be carefully investigated.”

“CHILDREN’S BODIES EVERYWHERE”

The director of the school, Olga Grebennikova, described the scene that she encountered when she entered the college building after the attack.

“There are bodies everywhere, children’s bodies everywhere. It was a real act of terrorism. They burst in five or 10 minutes after I’d left. They blew up everything in the hall, glass was flying,” Grebennikova told Crimean media outlets.

Law enforcement officers gather at the scene of a fatal attack on a college in the port city of Kerch, Crimea October 17, 2018. Ekaterina Kejzo/Courtesy of Kerch.FM/Handout via REUTERS TV

Law enforcement officers gather at the scene of a fatal attack on a college in the port city of Kerch, Crimea October 17, 2018. Ekaterina Kejzo/Courtesy of Kerch.FM/Handout via REUTERS TV

“They then ran about throwing some kind of explosives around, and then ran around the second floor with guns, opened the office doors, and killed anyone they could find.”

Soon after the attack, Russian officials said they were investigating the possibility that it was terrorism. Troops with armored personnel carriers were sent to the scene. Local parents were told to collect their children from the city’s schools and kindergartens for their safety.

However, the Investigative Committee, the state body that investigates major crimes, said later that it was re-classifying the case from terrorism to mass murder.

Officials had previously given the death toll as 18, but the Committee revised that to 17 killed. An employee at Kerch’s hospital said dozens of people were being treated for their injuries in the emergency room and in the operating theater.

Anastasia Yenshina, a 15-year-old student at the college, said she was in a toilet on the ground floor of the building with some friends when she heard the sound of an explosion.

“I came out and there was dust and smoke, I couldn’t understand, I’d been deafened,” she told Reuters. “Everyone started running. I did not know what to do. Then they told us to leave the building through the gymnasium.”

“Everyone ran there… I saw a girl lying there. There was a child who was being helped to walk because he could not move on his own. The wall was covered in blood. Then everyone started to climb over the fence, and we could still hear explosions. Everyone was scared. People were crying.”

Photographs from the scene of the blast showed that the ground floor windows of the two-story building had been blown out, and that debris was lying on the floor outside.

Emergency services teams could be seen in the photographs carrying wounded people from the building on makeshift stretchers and loading them on to buses and ambulances.

A second pupil at the college, who gave his name as Sergei, said he had taken a few steps out of the building into the street when the first blast went off. He was hit by debris from the blast and injured in the leg.

Sergei, 15, told Reuters he ran to another building but said he could hear more explosions going off every few seconds. He took cover and after the attack was over, he was taken to hospital in an ambulance.

“I arrived at the hospital, the scene there was awful. They’re bringing in people all covered in blood, some with arms missing, some with legs missing.”

(Reporting by Moscow newsroom; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Gareth Jones)

College pay-off seems elusive for many U.S. young people

FILE PHOTO: Graduating students arrive for Commencement Exercises at Boston College in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. on May 20, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Phot

By Gail MarksJarvis

CHICAGO (Reuters) – When Scott Petracco graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in biology eight years ago, he thought he would quickly get a job in a laboratory and pay off $30,000 in student loans.

But the country was just emerging from the 2007-2009 recession, and he could not find a job related to his degree. Now, at age 30, he works part-time as a kidney dialysis technician in Chicago for $15 an hour. Since that does not pay the bills, he also has a second job loading freight.

“It’s nothing very exciting, but it pays well,” said Petracco, who does not think the money he spent on college was worth it. Tormented by his student loans, he has given up on going to medical school or working in his field, and is devoting “every dime I have into getting rid of the debt within six years.”

Petracco is not unusual. A study by the Federal Reserve published in May found that half of people under 30 with bachelor’s degrees wonder if the money they spent on college was worth it. It is a stunning finding in the Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017 https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/files/2017-report-economic-well-being-us-households-201805.pdf, and evidence that the generation that finished college right after the Great Recession is turning into the “lost generation” some economists predicted a decade ago.

Separate research by the St. Louis Federal Reserve has found that rather than bouncing back from bad economic times, the wealth of the millennial generation has decreased since 2010 and is far less than their parents’ generation at a similar stage in life.

“The generation born in the 1980s has not seen the college pay-off,” said William Emmons, an economist with the St. Louis Fed.

A key to this: Pay has not kept up with the cost of college borrowing.

Even though job opportunities have improved since the recession, Emmons thinks this year’s graduates could be weighed down by the same trends.

Although unemployment has declined to just 5.3 percent for young college graduates, the New York Federal Reserve reported in April that 42.5 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed, working in jobs that do not require college degrees.

While engineers are doing fine, with only 17 percent of industrial engineers underemployed, some 57 percent of liberal arts majors and 49 percent of biological science majors are underemployed.

That suggests that Petracco’s problem finding a job stemmed not just from the recession. So many people now go to college that competition for jobs is intense. And because so many people with college degrees are available to employers, “We should not expect to go back to the 90s with big increases in salary,” for graduates, said Emmons.

GENERATION GAP

Buyer’s remorse over the big college purchase among 20-somethings fits the times. There has been a tremendous change in prosperity since baby boomers went to college.

For the generation born in the 1950s and 60s, when far fewer people went to college, graduating from college lifted incomes for young adults 57 percent higher than people who did not go to college, according to the St. Louis Fed. Now it is just 43 percent higher for people born in the 1980s, who now in their 30s or late 20s.

There has been an even worse drop-off in the ability to build wealth among people who went to college. Baby boomers born in the 1950s bought homes shortly after college and quickly built wealth in their 20s and 30s. Their wealth was 185 percent more than peers who had not gone to college.

Today, after borrowing heavily for college and starting jobs with relatively stagnant pay, those born in the 1980s have wealth only 42 percent above peers who did not go to college.

Housing – both rentals and buying – is unaffordable in many major metropolitan areas. Freddie Mac recently reported that less than half of college graduates could afford to live independently in cities. Fewer own homes.

Those who do buy often do so with help from a parent or grandparent, said Dana Bull, a 29-year-old Boston real estate agent who caters to her generation.

Having a college degree has not helped some of her peers, who struggle to get jobs. Then, Bull said, they compound the problem by adding on more debt for master’s degrees.

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Frances Kerry)

Daycare costs harder to afford than college for many; Nation’s fertility rate hits record low

A schoolteacher, who wished to stay unidentified, attempts to catch snowflakes while leading her students to a library from school in the Harlem neighborhood, located in the Manhattan borough of New York on January 10, 2014. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

By Gail MarksJarvis

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Americans are not having enough babies.

The nation’s fertility rate hit a record low in 2017, and one has to wonder: Could the cost of raising children be discouraging a generation that was choked by the Great Recession?

Employment is strong, but pay has been stagnant. College student loans average $35,000, and renting or buying a home is unaffordable in most metro areas. Throw daycare costs of $10,000 a child into the mix, and families ask themselves: How can they afford a baby?

Childcare is the third-largest expense in the family budget, behind food and housing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which calculated last year that middle class families spend $233,610 raising a child to the age of 18.

“Daycare is a crisis and a much bigger problem than college,” says Betsey Stevenson, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, who wonders why there is not a massive public outcry for relief.

Both presidential candidates raised the issue in the last campaign, and Congress then doubled the child tax credit to $2,000.

But there has been no daycare legislation. Rather than organizing politically, it appears that 20- and 30-somethings are voting with their reproductive systems.

The only age group with a rising fertility rate in 2017 was women 40 to 44 years old, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In addition, 20 percent of parents in a Care.com survey said they would have fewer children than they wanted because of childcare costs.

Lisa Anderson, 30, is among the stressed-out mothers. She commutes daily from a rural home to work at her government consulting job in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, devoting a quarter of her family income to her 10-month-old son’s daycare.

She worries how she and her husband will afford a second child. Daycare for one baby costs close to $10,000; with two, it would total half of the couple’s take-home income.

With about $1,000 in monthly student loan payments, “I’m starting to regret what I spent on graduate school,” Anderson said. But she and others in her generation cannot undo past decisions, they can only control when and if they’ll have children.

BIG COSTS

For working parents, daycare costs are rising at almost twice the nation’s inflation rate since the recession.

Government guidelines suggest a ratio of 10 percent of income for childcare. But the median family with children under six earned $68,808 in 2016, about $20,000 short of making the median $8,320 annual daycare cost affordable, according to a Brookings Institute analysis of Census data.

Infant care at $10,400 is harsher, and the quality daycare preferred by people with incomes over $150,000 costs $11,652, according to Brookings analyst Grover Whitehurst. In expensive areas of the country, that goes up to $18,000 per child.

Nannies are even more costly – averaging about $28,905 a year nationally, according to Care.com. As a result, only about 4 percent of families use them, according to Census data.

Most parents have limited options for cutting costs other than drawing on help from family, sharing caregivers, compromising quality and having fewer children.

Some states offer subsidies, but most go to low-income people. Families get a little tax relief if they claim the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit at tax time or use a flexible spending account at work to stash money away for childcare on a pre-tax basis.

Financial planners calm parents by telling them they can catch up with retirement and college saving after their children enter school.

But Rachel Brewer, a San Diego mother of three children between seven and nine, questions that. “Kids were the cheapest when babies. I spent $5 for a can of formula. Now, I sweat bullets every time I take the kids to the dentist,” she said.

(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Dan Grebler)

Student tax breaks survive the tax bill, make the most of them

Graduates celebrate receiving a Masters in Business Administration from Columbia University during the year's commencement ceremony in New York in this May 18, 2005 file photo. dreams of many college seniors. REUTERS/Chip East/Files

By Gail MarksJarvis

CHICAGO (Reuters) – If you are going to college, getting extra training for a job, or paying off student loans, there are myriad tax breaks worth thousands of dollars to people burdened by college costs.

Although many were threatened in early versions of the tax bills crafted by the Senate and House and Representatives, students can breathe a sigh of relief that the benefits all remain. Tax experts suggest using these strategies before the end of December to get every penny possible:

* Student loan interest deduction

About 12.4 million borrowers make use of this deduction. You can deduct up to $2,500 in interest per year, which can result in tax savings that for some top $600.

The deduction depends on how much you have paid in a single tax year toward your student loans and also depends on your income.

If your loan payments made so far for 2017 do not qualify for the $2,500 maximum deduction and you are still paying off student loans, consider paying more before the end of the year to boost the deduction, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of www.Cappex.com. You can find out how much interest you have paid so far this year from the student loan servicer that collects your monthly payments.

To take the full $2,500 deduction, an individual cannot have a modified adjusted gross income over $65,000, and for couples $135,000. For individuals with incomes up to $80,000 and for married couples earning up to $165,000, smaller deductions apply.

Paying extra by Dec. 31 would be particularly wise if your income next year is likely to put you over the income cutoff, said Gil Charney, director of tax and policy analysis for The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

* College credits

Both the American Opportunity Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit provide tax breaks to help pay for education, but apply to different stages.

For undergrads, the American Opportunity Credit is worth up to $2,500 per year, but can be used only for the first four years of college. Students must attend at least half-time.

If you have not paid enough tuition and fees to qualify for the full credit this year and have been billed for the first quarter or semester in 2018, consider paying the bill now to maximize the 2017 credit, Charney said. The credit covers 100 percent of the first $2,000 in tuition and fees paid in a year; then 25 percent of the next $2,000.

Remember, there are income limits. You can’t get the full credit with modified adjusted gross income over $80,000; $160,000 for couples.

If your income will exceed the limit in 2018 but qualifies in 2017, this would be the year to capture as much as possible.

The same strategy applies to the Lifetime Learning Credit, which is valuable to part-time students, graduate students or workers trying to enhance job opportunities with an extra course or training.

The Lifetime Learning Credit is worth $2,000, or 20 percent of the first $10,000 spent in a year. So consider paying ahead for 2018 education, especially if you are near an income cutoff: over $56,000 in modified adjusted gross income for individuals, or $112,000 for couples for the maximum credit.

Keep in mind that if two spouses are going to school they cannot both claim the $2,000; it is a maximum per household. The American Opportunity Credit is kinder because it applies per student. Parents with three children in college at the same time could claim the credit for each child and do it annually for the four years a child is in an undergraduate program.

For more details, see IRS Publication 970

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Leslie Adler)

New York college lecturer placed on leave after ‘dead cops’ comment

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – A lecturer at a New York City college of criminal justice who wrote on social media that he teaches “future dead cops” was placed on leave on Friday, the school’s president said, as the city’s mayor called the academic’s comment “vile.”

John Jay College of Criminal Justice adjunct professor Michael Isaacson has taught courses in economics and is a self-described member of the anti-fascist, or antifa, movement.

Many students at John Jay eventually join the New York Police Department.

On Friday, Pat Lynch the head of New York’s largest police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, sent John Jay’s president a letter calling for Isaacson’s dismissal. Lynch highlighted an Aug. 23 tweet.

“Some of y’all might think it sucks being an anti-fascist teaching at John Jay College but I think it’s a privilege to teach future dead cops,” Isaacson wrote in the post on Twitter, according to a screen-grab from the union.

Lynch’s letter accused Isaacson of promoting violence against police.

The criticism of Isaacson’s social media post follows heightened scrutiny of law enforcement over officers’ use of force against minorities. The country has also seen a number of targeted killings of police officers, including the shooting death of five officers in Dallas last year.

John Jay College President Karol Mason said in a statement on Friday that John Jay faculty members had received death threats and that Isaacson was placed on administrative leave “out of concern for the safety” of students, faculty and staff. The college is reviewing the matter, Mason said.

“I am appalled that anyone associated with John Jay, with our proud history of supporting law enforcement authorities, would suggest that violence against police is ever acceptable,” Mason said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday wrote on Twitter the city “won’t stand for the vile anti-police rhetoric of Michael Isaacson and neither should John Jay College.”

Isaacson appeared on Fox News on Thursday, where during an interview by host Tucker Carlson he defended the antifa movement.

Isaacson’s television appearance appears to have drawn increased attention to his Aug. 23 Twitter post.

Isaacson, in a statement on Friday, said he critiques “policing as an institution which operates at the behest of a state that increasingly represents the weapons and prison industry.”

“My biggest regret is putting my students and the John Jay faculty and staff at risk,” he said in a separate statement by email.

 

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Tom Hogue)

 

Duke University removes contentious Confederate statue after vandalism

The empty plinth where a statue of Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee once stood is flanked by statues of Thomas Jefferson and the poet Sidney Lanier at the entrance to Duke University's Duke Chapel after officials removed the controversial statue early Saturday morning in Durham, North Carolina, U.S., August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Miczek

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Duke University removed a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the entrance of a chapel on the Durham, North Carolina, campus, officials said on Saturday, days after it was vandalized.

The decision to take down the statue followed discussions among students, faculty, staff and alumni about maintaining safety on campus, university President Vincent E. Price said in a statement.

“I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university,” Price said.

The prestigious university will preserve the statue of Lee, who led Confederate forces in the American Civil War of 1861-1865, and use it as an educational tool so that students can study “Duke’s complex past,” Price added.

The Confederacy, comprised of 11 Southern states, broke from the Union largely to preserve the institution of slavery.

Symbols of the Confederacy have come into focus since last weekend, when white nationalists, angered at the planned removal of a statue of Lee from a park in Charlottesville, Virginia, engaged in violent protests where a counter-protester was killed.

The Robert E. Lee statue, one of 10 outside Duke Chapel, was vandalized and defaced late on Wednesday night. Campus security discovered the damage early Thursday, according to university officials. The incident was under investigation.

“Wednesday night’s act of vandalism made clear that the turmoil and turbulence of recent months do not stop at Duke’s gates,” Price said.

“We have a responsibility to come together as a community to determine how we can respond to this unrest in a way that demonstrates our firm commitment to justice, not discrimination,” he said.

Duke will form a committee to advise the school on how to properly memorialize historical figures on campus, and to recommend teaching programs, exhibitions and forums to explore its past.

There are more than 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy, including 700 monuments and statues, in public spaces across the United States, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

The large majority of these were erected long after the Civil War ended in 1865. Many went up early in the 20th century during a backlash among segregationists against the civil rights movement.

More than a half-dozen have been taken down since last week.

 

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

 

Case of missing China scholar rattles compatriots at U.S. colleges

Chinese student Yingying Zhang is seen in a still image from security camera video taken outside an MTD Teal line bus in Urbana, Illinois, U.S. June 9, 2017. University of Illinois Police/Handout via REUTERS

By Julia Jacobs

CHICAGO(Reuters) – For many of the 300,000 Chinese students at U.S. colleges and their parents back home, the presumed kidnapping of a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois confirmed their worst fears about coming to America to study.

Xinyi Zhang, a 21-year-old student from China who is studying accounting at the same Illinois school that the missing woman was attending, said the case has stirred deep anxiety for her and her family in China.

She said she had tried to shield her parents from details of the disappearance of Yingying Zhang, 26, who came to Illinois several months ago to study photosynthesis and crop productivity. But the Chinese media had covered the story too closely to keep them in the dark.

“I just don’t want them to be panicked,” said Xinyi Zhang, who is not related to the missing woman. “I am the only child they have, and the risk of losing me is just too huge to handle.”

The business school student, who is home for the summer before returning to Illinois next month for her senior year, said her parents worry about her going back to her off-campus apartment. They have even suggested she apply to graduate school in a different country.

The case came to a head this month when a 28-year-old former Illinois graduate student, Brendt Christensen, was charged with kidnapping Zhang, who went missing on June 9. Authorities believe she is dead, though no body has been found.

Her misfortune has become a near-obsession with many of the 300,000 Chinese international students at U.S. colleges and their parents half a world away, lighting up social media and animating long-distance phone calls.

State-sponsored Chinese news media outlets have framed the case as emblematic of a security problem in the United States. The People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, wrote earlier this month that the kidnapping shows that China is “much safer” than America.

On Weibo, a Chinese blogging site, commenters have repeatedly questioned the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s effectiveness in investigating the case, said Berlin Fang, a Chinese newspaper columnist based in the United States.

Xiaotong Gui, a 20-year-old math student at Pomona College outside Los Angeles, said reading about the case made her feel unsafe on her own campus nearly 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from the Illinois university, which draws thousands of students from China.

On Johns Hopkins University’s Baltimore campus, Luorongxin Yuan, a 20-year-old biology student from outside Nanjing, said the fact that the accused kidnapper was a graduate student has made her mother particularly anxious. “She doesn’t trust anyone here anymore,” Yuan said.

Before Christensen’s arrest, federal agents put him under surveillance and heard him say that he had kidnapped Zhang, court documents show. A search of the suspect’s cellphone revealed that he had visited a website that included threads on “perfect abduction fantasy.”

His attorney has said his client is still presumed innocent. If convicted, Christensen could face up to life in prison.

Shen Qiwen, a spokesman for the Chinese consulate in Chicago, said Chinese officials hoped the FBI would step up efforts to find the missing scholar. The FBI is involved in the case because kidnapping is a federal crime. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Illinois business student Xinyi Zhang said many Chinese students are hoping for a miracle.

“That could be me,” she said. “For some reason I’m still holding my hope, though, that there’s a tiny, tiny chance that she’s alive right now.”

(Reporting by Julia Jacobs; editing by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Oatis)