Elissa Nadworny

Elissa Nadworny covers higher education and college access for NPR. She's led the NPR Ed team's multiplatform storytelling – incorporating radio, print, comics, photojournalism, and video into the coverage of education. In 2017, that work won an Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation. As an education reporter for NPR, she's covered many education topics, including new education research, chronic absenteeism, and some fun deep-dives into the most popular high school plays and musicals and the history behind a classroom skeleton.

After the 2016 election, she traveled with Melissa Block across the U.S. for series "Our Land." They reported from communities large and small, capturing how people's identities are shaped by where they live.

Prior to coming to NPR, Nadworny worked at Bloomberg News, reporting from the White House. A recipient of the McCormick National Security Journalism Scholarship, she spent four months reporting on U.S. international food aid for USA Today, traveling to Jordan to talk with Syrian refugees about food programs there. In addition to USA Today, she's written stories for Dow Jones' MarketWatch, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald and McClatchy DC.

A native of Erie, Pennsylvania, Nadworny has a bachelor's degree in documentary film from Skidmore College and a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

Lately, Echo Fridley has had a raspy voice and a sore throat. Not from illness but from many hours on the phone talking with other students about quarantine and isolation, as a contact tracer at Syracuse University.

"I'm definitely super-overwhelmed," says Fridley, a junior studying public health and biology. "We've seen such an explosion of cases."

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When President-elect Joe Biden delivered his acceptance speech, he gave this shoutout.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: For American educators, this is a great day for you all.

(CHEERING)

Sandy Kretschmer imagines her son Henry returning home from college, dropping his bags and then giving her a big hug. But she knows the reality of this homecoming may be a lot different.

"I'll probably have a mask on, and he'll have a mask on when I hug him," she says.

Henry plans to take a COVID-19 test a few days before he leaves Iowa State University where he's a junior, and he'll self-quarantine until he heads home to Chicago.

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With the eyes of the country upon him, Joe Biden shouted out education during his speech Saturday in Wilmington, Del: "For American educators, this is a great day for you all. You're going to have one of your own in the White House."

Of course, the president-elect was talking about his wife, Jill Biden, an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College. She taught throughout Biden's two terms as vice president, and in a break with precedent, intends to continue as first lady.

Despite a legacy of low turnout, college students — and young people in general — could be a decisive voting bloc in this election. Already, nearly 5 million Americans, ages 18 to 29, have cast early votes, a far higher number than at this point in 2016.

But will this fall's pandemic campus experience upend optimistic projections for a college student turnout?

Twice a week, mathematics professor Andrea Bruder squats in the sewage tunnels below South Hall, a mostly freshman dorm at Colorado College. She wears head-to-toe protective gear and holds a plastic ladle in one hand and a to-go coffee cup in the other. Bruder hovers above an opening in a large metal pipe and patiently waits for a student to flush.

That flush will flood the pipes with just enough water to carry human waste down to her ladle, then to her coffee cup and eventually to a lab for processing.

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Of the colleges and universities that have chosen to hold classes in person this fall, most are not conducting widespread testing of their students for the coronavirus, an NPR analysis has found. With only weeks remaining before many of those schools plan to send students home for the end of the semester, the findings raise concerns that communities around the U.S. could be exposed to new outbreaks.

The college admissions process has long been sold as a system of merit: Do well in school, write a killer essay, score well on the SAT, and you'll get in. Yet the recent nationwide scandal, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, laid bare just how much money, instead of aptitude, often drives admissions at elite colleges.

Enrollment at U.S. community colleges has dropped nearly 8% this fall, newly released figures show, part of an overall decline in undergraduate enrollment as students face a global pandemic and the worst economic recession in decades.

Often, enrollment in higher education spikes in times of high unemployment and recession as students seek additional job skills and postpone entering the workforce. But the pandemic has overturned those traditional calculations, according to preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which tracks college enrollment.

Monday, Sept. 21, was supposed to mark the start of in-person classes for New York City's 1.1 million public school students. It was the only big-city district planning to start the school year in person. But with just four days to go, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced that only the youngest students, in 3-K and Pre-K, and those with significant special needs, would be coming back on Sept. 21. The rest of the students will phase in by grade level between through Oct. 1.

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College towns are in a dilemma. They need students for their businesses to survive, but bringing students back could mean increasing the risk of COVID-19, and that could mean shutting back down again. NPR's Elissa Nadworny spent some time near the University of Michigan.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: If you're looking for some Wolverine or Go Blue gear and you're in Ann Arbor, you're probably heading to The M Den.

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A university that many researchers have touted as a potential model for reopening campuses to in-person classes is hitting some bumps in the road. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had implemented a mass coronavirus testing program for staff and students in an effort to keep virus spread on campus under control.

As the fall semester gets underway, college students are reuniting with their friends, getting (re)acquainted with campus and doing what college students often do: partying. But in the time of the coronavirus, as more parties surface university administrators have been quick to condemn — and even berate — the behavior of students.

"Be better. Be adults. Think of someone other than yourself," pleaded a letter to students at Syracuse University following a large gathering on campus.

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On the morning of Friday, Aug. 14, The Daily Tar Heel newsroom got a tip: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was about to announce clusters of positive coronavirus cases in student housing, after only a week of in-person classes. The student-led independent newspaper broke the news before the university sent its campus-wide alert.

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The excitement in the air at the University of Georgia is palpable, with move-in days for the fall semester finally here. There are packed cars, overstuffed suitcases, a white shag rug, an old grey futon and a potted succulent named Susie.

But nestled between the familiar college accessories were stark reminders of the coronavirus pandemic: Boxes of cleaning supplies. Masks. Hand sanitizer.

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When the pandemic hit the state of Washington, it took Patricia Lopez's job as a medical assistant with it. Not having a college degree made it especially hard to find a new job, as so many employers were making cuts and tightening budgets.

Lopez applied for unemployment benefits — she'd need money to support her two kids and her mother, who lives with her — and signed up for classes at the local community college.

The Department of Justice accused Yale University of violating federal civil rights law by illegally discriminating against Asian American and white applicants in its undergraduate admissions process.

Those are the findings of a two-year investigation conducted in response to a complaint by a coalition of Asian American groups. The Justice Department notified university officials in a letter on Thursday.

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When Irem Ozturk got the email from Dickinson College in mid-June announcing "we intend to bring all students back to campus," she was elated. She's originally from Turkey, but after two years on campus, she's come to think of Carlisle, Pa., as home. "I was thrilled because I felt like I was returning back home, excited to see friends and faculty," she says. "I felt happy. I felt like I had something to look forward to."

That happiness lasted a little more than a month.

There's a lot Andy Tu was looking forward to as a freshman at Claremont McKenna College, a small private college in California. He imagined having intellectual debates on the quad and meeting "highly motivated, open-minded friends." Coming from an environment that's "intolerant of unconventional ideas," he says he was looking forward to being able to express himself freely on campus. He'd even been daydreaming about learning how to surf.

But every morning he wakes up at home in Shanghai, he feels like that iconic American freshman year is slipping further and further away.

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