It's almost impossible to keep up with the changing landscape of COVID-19-related higher education news. Colleges and universities are making their best efforts to keep us informed, but under social-distancing and work-at-home guidelines, that task must be very challenging.
In order to sample the actions colleges are taking, below I've posted excerpts from the latest news releases of a few schools. This year's college-bound high school seniors are in the midst of making their enrollment decisions, trying to make critical objective judgments from a distance about where they will begin their college careers. The changing policies of their prospective colleges have made the selection process more complex, if not downright difficult.
Dorm Evacuations Surprise Some
Current college students (and high schoolers) are now dealing with online classes and end-of-year testing. Collegians are also trying to find out what lies ahead for the summer and if their schools will, in fact, be in session on campus this fall. On top of that, college students who were swept out of their dorms are still wrestling with what happened to their belongings:
When students who'd evacuated their dorm rooms at Virginia Commonwealth University discovered personal belongings they'd left behind were being packed and removed from their rooms to accommodate non-COVID-19 hospital patients, it was through a video on social media.
The video posted on Facebook by a moving company employee on March 25 showed movers going into the rooms and preparing to clear them. The response from surprised students was immediate.
"I want an answer as to why y'all are literally stealing my stuff right now," one student tweeted at the university.
After being told to leave campus and retrieve belongings by March 22 in the wake of the coronavirus public health crisis, the students were angered to learn that strangers would be going through and packing up their stuff ...
This would concern me. As if that weren't enough to disrupt sleep and studies, some students will be charged to pick up their dorm items, adding insult to injury.
Grading Formats Evolve
What else is going on as colleges grapple with this unprecedented situation? Here's a sampling from some news items I found:
Amherst College on grading:
… All classes during the spring 2020 semester will be treated as though the flexible grading option (FGO) had been elected. You may read about the current FGO policy online. The FGO enables students to decide whether or not to keep a grade they earned in a course after the grade is posted, or in the case of any passing grade, to elect to receive a ("P") …
Elmhurst College (Illinois):
… On March 16, 2020, Elmhurst College moved to online and remote instruction for the remainder of the semester in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The College recognizes the extraordinary impact that this pandemic has had and will continue to have on students. To support students' successful completion of their courses and to reduce stress and anxiety associated with the pandemic, the College is making the following exceptions to standard academic policies for the Spring 2020 term only ...
… Students have the option to elect a P/NP grading preference on a course-by-course basis for courses that they are enrolled in for the Spring 2020 term. There will be no limit to the number of courses a student can elect for this grading preference, and any courses elected for P/NP grading preference during the Spring 2020 term will not count against the maximum number of six P/NP courses that can be applied toward graduation requirements ...
Hamilton College, from the president:
… In the face of the worst global pandemic in a hundred years, we have been forced to take extraordinary steps to protect our community. I know how difficult the move to remote instruction has been for everyone, but I continue to be impressed by, and grateful for, the resilience, creativity, and concern that have characterized our community's response.
Earlier today [April 7], and with deep regret, I had to inform our seniors that we must postpone the in-person commencement ceremony on May 24, but I reiterated a promise that I made earlier to bring the Class of 2020 back to campus when it is safe and appropriate, so that we can celebrate with all the traditional pomp and circumstance. In addition, and in the interim, we will ask seniors to give us feedback about holding a virtual ceremony. I also informed our alumni of the equally difficult decision to postpone Reunions, originally set for the second weekend in June ...
Penn State's spring semester:
… Penn State has suspended in-person classes for the rest of the semester and postponed spring commencement … Exams will be administered remotely ...
Penn State … will announce a schedule for students to come collect their belongings from residence halls and apartments soon. The university is also working with local landlords, municipalities and student leaders to minimize contact for students returning to off-campus housing to retrieve belongings.
The university said it will have more information soon on room and board refunds, internships, on-campus jobs and research projects that have been disrupted due to the shift to online classes ...
Both summer sessions — which begin May 26 and July 6 — will be held remotely. For fall 2020, our plan is to resume regular, in-person classes on campus. Of course, we are continuing to monitor developments closely.
The Student Health Insurance Plan is waiving all out of pocket expenses for COVID-19 related testing and treatment …
The University has completed the process of providing housing refunds for students required to vacate NYU residence halls, as well as meal-related refunds. NYU has also reviewed dozens of individual school- and course-based fees for the purpose of determining potential refunds …
Emergency Aid and Grants
In an effort to assist students who have financial need caused by COVID-19, in the last three weeks the University has provided approximately $4 million to some 8,500 students in the form of emergency aid and grants ...
… We have determined that will not make housing available in the undergraduate housing system through the end of June …
North Carolina community colleges:
… Community colleges across North Carolina have extended spring break, canceled classes and begun to transition their instruction to an online format ...
… The System Office has also suggested that colleges shift to online delivery in serving high school students in the Career and College Promise program. Nearly 60,000 high school students in the state take community college courses through the dual enrollment program …
… the State Board of Community Colleges is expected to consider changes to administrative flexibility, such as allowing students to extend tuition payments to future course enrollments ...
Note These Commonalities
That's just a glimpse of how higher education institutions are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. The common threads appear to include:
- Evacuating campus
- Storing of student dorm belongings
- Moving to online instruction
- Pass/fail grading
- Selected refunds for room and board
- Time-shifting graduation and reunions, and
- A wait-and-see policy for a fall 2020 start.
More challenges may lie ahead, since this is uncharted territory. I have a personal philosophy: In disruption dwells opportunity. Thus, my advice to both high schoolers and college students is this: Roll with your circumstances and stay alert for advantages. For example, a move to pass/fail grading can be a blessing for a math course in which you're struggling. High schoolers can think about what a great application essay to write: Spring 2020 -- My Life in Lockdown. Silver linings lurk!
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