Everyone wants to know if students will be on campus in the fall. Covid-19 has made this a difficult question to answer. Some schools such as Notre Dame have said they will start early, end early (before Thanksgiving), and forego all breaks in order to bring students back on campus. Others such as the Cal State system have said classes will be online although they are still considering bringing science students on campus because they need the labs. (For a list of schools that have announced their plans click here.)
At the end of the day, the answer is: It depends. Administrators are weighing the pros and cons. They clearly want to provide students with the college experience they desire, but they know safety is paramount. Each school will have to make the decision in light of their unique situation.
- Where are they located?
- When/how often will students, professors, and employees be tested?
- How will they ensure social distancing occurs?
- Where/how will they care for sick students?
- How important are sports or other large events to the “college experience” they offer to students?
Schools in a hot spot such as New York City will have more hurdles to overcome than those in a more isolated location with fewer Covid cases. Large schools could need thousands of test kits if they plan to test students and staff frequently. While it would seem that smaller colleges have the advantage of smaller class sizes, they have to contend with smaller classrooms (think 20 students in a room that fits 20 people vs 100 students in a lecture hall that fits 500). Gone are the days of a “forced triple” dorm room. Now schools are considering giving everyone a single. And what happens when students get sick? Colleges may need to rent hotels to create a temporary infirmary.
The Chronicle of Higher Ed recently interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci. In the interview, Dr. Fauci indicated that colleges will have to review the CDC and state guidelines and decide if they can safely bring students and staff (and visitors) back to campus. Colleges, after all, are a business. They need students on campus. They need tuition payments and alumni/fan support. Big sports schools bank on the revenue that football and basketball provide. Research institutions need professors, staff, and students to conduct research in order to receive government funding and grants. Small liberal arts schools rely on tuition payments to stay afloat.
It’s almost June. Colleges will open their doors and welcome back students in just over two months. Or will they?