I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle covering innovation in and around academe. Here’s what I’m thinking about this week.

Your reading list on easing food insecurity, the debt-cancellation debate, and online-learning growth.

A reminder: The Edge has begun its summer schedule, alternating (every other week) reported newsletters and annotated reading lists from me as we all try to take a little time to reset, rejuvenate, and ready ourselves for the next academic year. (Is it just me, or does the fall semester already seem to be approaching way too soon?!)

This week, I’ll give you some ideas on helping students in need of food assistance, the pros and cons of canceling student debt, and an expansive look at tech trends in higher ed.

Getting a handle on the level of food insecurity college students face remains difficult, but studies show that the problem is real and growing. A new report from the Congressional Research Service, “Food Insecurity Among College Students: Background and Policy Options,” is ostensibly designed to guide lawmakers. But it includes several suggestions that colleges themselves could adopt to improve circumstances for students in need.

Two stood out to me. One is that colleges, maybe with the help of states, could expand Work-Study employment, because students who hold those jobs are not disqualified from Supplemental Nutrition Aid Programs. The other is that institutions with food stores on campus could build up their inventories so that the establishments could be certified to accept SNAP benefits. Just imagine how much easier it would be for students already juggling classes and family obligations to skip that extra stop at the grocery store on the way home from campus. Meanwhile, I appreciate that this report doesn’t consider SNAP a panacea, noting both that “some research has shown that stigma deters students from seeking and using this help,” and that the monthly benefits aren’t all that generous.

There’s plenty of debate over whether and how to cancel student debt, and two recent analyses offer contrasting viewpoints. One, from the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, argues that, as the title states, “Partial Student Debt CancellationIs Poor Economic Stimulus.” The other, a geekily titled issue brief from the Roosevelt Institute, “Student Debt CancellationISProgressive: Correcting Empirical and Conceptual Errors,” contends that arguments against debt cancellation aren’t nearly as compelling upon reconsidering some underlying premises.

I’m really not trying to play “on the other hand” by highlighting both of those papers. Each makes good points. From a fiscal standpoint, I can see why a centrist, budget-minded organization concludes that debt forgiveness isn’t as valuable a tool for helping the economy as, say, extending unemployment benefits. That’s in part because, the authors argue, “the benefits are poorly targeted to those who are less likely to spend any additional cash they receive.” That’s also the basis for the argument that canceling student debt, especially the proposals to cancel up to $50,000 of it, is regressive policy, because most of the benefits would accrue to higher-income people.

Yet, as highlighted by Roosevelt — an organization focused on corporate and public power, labor and wages, and the economics of race and gender inequality — too often such calculations distort the picture by excluding data on wealthy families with no student debt. “Examining borrowers alone provides an artificially inflated and misleading picture of the benefits that flow to higher-income households,” the authors contend. They also argue their “progressive” case for debt cancellation by noting that more benefits would accrue to borrowers who are Black and Latinx, and from low-wealth families (as opposed to low-income). Most analyses, the report asserts, don’t slice and dice the data that way.

• After more than a year of “emergency remote learning” (an apt description, I think), the vast majority of chief online-learning officers predict growth in online education “rather than flight,” according to a new survey and report on the “Changing Landscape of Online Education.” In the CHLOE 6 survey of 361 college officials, 13 percent predicted continuation of the pre-pandemic growth pattern in online undergraduate programs, 60 percent expected “some” further increase, and 17 percent anticipated “strongly increased” online growth. Only 6 percent predicted any decline.

And colleges appear to be investing in their digital future.. Nearly two-thirds of respondents to this sixth annual survey, conducted by Quality Matters and Eduventures Research, reported that their institutions had made “some” or “substantial” additional resources available to support online learning, with spending on technology hardware and software licenses most common.

I was also interested to see that trends in tuition pricing for online courses didn’t vary much last year. Colleges continued their different approaches: Previously, most (64 percent) charged the same for online and in-person courses, while about 14 percent charged more for online, and another 14 percent charged less (the rest didn’t answer conclusively). Covid-19 didn’t change those percentages by very much. That, as the report says, “counters any perceptions of colleges and universities broadly discounting tuition during the pandemic” for remote instruction.

Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at goldie@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, find them here. To receive your own copy, free, register here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.

Goldie’s Weekly Picks