The Hechinger Report stories covered a tumultuous year in education news


Editor’s note: This story led off this week’s Higher Education newsletter, which is delivered free to subscribers’ inboxes every other Thursday with trends and top stories about higher education. 

Dear Reader, 

Saying it’s been a wild year in higher education news seems like the understatement of the century. (I think even non-education nerds would agree!) Thank you for sticking with The Hechinger Report as we tried to make sense of it all. 

The first half of the year felt like we were all collectively holding our breath, waiting for the United States Supreme Court to rule on two massive cases, one on student loan forgiveness and another on affirmative action in college admissions. As we waited, I wrote about the poster child of the anti-affirmative action movement, Jon Marcus broke down federal data that shows the gap between Black and white Americans with college degrees is widening, and Meredith Kolodner reported, as she has before, about the fact that many flagship universities don’t reflect their state’s Black or Latino high school graduates. 

The court ultimately ruled against student loan forgiveness and against the consideration of race in college admissions. 

Shortly thereafter, led by Jon Marcus and Fazil Khan, our team began working on The College Welcome Guide, a tool that helps students and families go beyond the rankings and understand what their life might be like on any four-year college campus in America. Jon’s reporting made it  clear that the culture wars are beginning to affect where students go to college, and we wanted to help ensure people had the many types of information they needed to make the best choice, regardless of who they are or what their political orientation is. 

All the while, we continued covering the country’s community colleges. Jill Barshay wrote about how much it costs to produce a community college graduate, and why some community colleges are choosing to drop remedial math. Jon covered the continuing enrollment struggles at these institutions. I reported on a new initiative to target job training for students at rural community colleges, as well as a guide to help community colleges make this kind of training more effective. 

We also examined some of the many routes people choose to take instead of going to college. I reported on what happens when universities get into unregulated partnerships with for-profit tech boot camps, and Meredith and Sarah Butrymowicz reported on risky, short-term career training programs that exist in a “no man’s land of accountability.” Tara García Mathewson exposed the tricky system that formerly incarcerated people have to navigate if they want to get job training and professional licenses once they’re out of prison. 

And though we love to dig deep into subjects and understand exactly how these big issues affect the lives of regular people, we also zoomed out this year. Meredith, working alongside Matthew Haag from The New York Times, discovered that Columbia University and New York University benefit massively from property tax breaks allowed for nonprofits (they saved $327 million last year alone). After their story was published, New York state legislators proposed a bill that would require these two institutions to pay those taxes and  funnel that money to the City University of New York system, the largest urban public university system in the country.

In 2024, we will continue to cover equity and innovation in higher education with nuance, care and a critical eye. Is there a story you think we should cover? Reply to this email to let us know.

For now, we hope you have a warm and restful break. See you in the new year. 


P.S. As a nonprofit news outlet, The Hechinger Report relies on readers like you to support our journalism. If you want to ensure our coverage in 2024 is as extensive and deeply reported as possible, please consider donating.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn’t mean it’s free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

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