With little more than three or four months to go until the Fall 2020 semester begins, a surprising number of colleges have announced their intentions to return to "normal" and resume in-person classes with a full inventory of students on campus. I've reviewed a number of those plans and will give a quick overview of some specifics below.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has an ongoing summary of schools that have come forth with their plans for fall. Each school listed has a link to the school's statement about its plan. Some statements are web pages; others are videos. The Chronicle's searchable table has, at this point, 14 pages of schools, listed under the headings of public or private, state, plan (links), and category ("Planning for in-person," "Planning for online," "Waiting to decide," "Considering a range of scenarios," and "Proposing a hybrid model"). Here are my observations:
Of the current 14 pages of schools currently listed (the list is constantly expanding), three quarters of them (74 percent) are planning on offering in-person classes this fall. That level of optimism, at least at this point, is easy to understand because of the financial consequences of delaying the return of residential students and fall sports. Fifteen percent are waiting to decide, five percent are either considering a range of options or a hybrid model, and only 1.6 percent are planning to stay with online instruction. The reason so few schools plan to stay with distance instruction is likely due to either the fear of reduced residential revenue or the polls showing students' overwhelmingly negative opinion of online learning (or both).
Northeastern, SMU Among Schools Sharing Plans
Let's take a look at some highlights from a few of the Chronicle-listed schools' plans for in-person fall classes. First up:
In a 2:27 YouTube video, Ball State notes:
The University is actively preparing to welcome students back in the Fall safely. To ensure a safe transition, President Mearns has formed a task force to prepare all aspects of campus operations. The University will consult with the Parents Advisory Council, which regularly provides its perspectives and ideas.
Over the next few weeks, Ball State will share more specific plans about Fall semester, including classes and campus life, and the University will continue to communicate on a regular basis …
When trying to understand the intentions of colleges proclaiming that they are planning on opening up for fall semester, such as Ball State, keep in mind that it's early in the game and the COVID-19 containment situation is extremely fluid. Even though governors are "opening up" various aspects of their states, a significant potential exists for a so-called "second wave" of infections later this summer and into the fall. Obviously, this would derail any school's plan for students returning to campus if it should occur.
… In response to global health concerns related to COVID-19 … Below are answers to some common questions to get you started with your preparations to become a Seminole … You will also find a very helpful list of resources for students at this link …
Will campus be open for the Fall term or will it be online? At this time, the Fall 2020 term is scheduled to begin on August 24 as normal. In the event it becomes necessary to make a change, we will notify all students immediately …
… To put things in very clear terms: It is our intention to reopen our campuses this fall and offer on-site instruction and a residential experience for our students. This is a highly complex endeavor; in fact, even more complicated than the move to remote learning and working we accomplished in March. It will require new and innovative thinking about classroom usage, residential occupancy, dining, athletics, student activities, and other elements of campus life. Rest assured that every aspect of how the university operates is being evaluated in the context of our new reality.
For example, while we continue to believe that classroom instruction should be the norm, we will offer many large lectures in both live and recorded formats, while some of our other classes will allow for both live and remote participation. We will need to expand student housing into new buildings and communities to reduce residential density. This may include setting aside residential space to accommodate those who will need to safely self-isolate …
We intend to be open in fall 2020.
… I am pleased to announce that SMU intends to safely open our University for on-campus teaching, learning and student living for the fall semester. We are looking forward to delivering the unique academic experience that defines SMU, and to rekindling the energy our students bring to campus.
Clearly, we will work within the boundaries of governmental guidelines as we plan for the beginning of fall classes. Be assured, every phase of our return to campus will launch with the health and safety of our campus population in mind. Your University is committed to managing this process aggressively and efficiently, using data and verifiable research to make good decisions …
TCU planning for students to return to campus for in-person classes this fall
Texas Christian University Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr. announced to students, parents, faculty and staff today that the university intends for students to safely return to campus for the fall 2020 semester, with a planned start date of Aug. 24.
Chancellor Boschini stated that TCU will continue to abide by government and public health guidance and that under his direction, the Fall 2020 Campus Readiness Task Force will oversee the safe return of residential life and on-campus instruction …
… We plan to welcome new and returning students to campus in the fall and resume in-person courses, residence life, student activities and more, while adhering to public health guidelines. We are planning for contingencies -- including the continuation of remote learning--if needed. We anticipate receiving further guidance from the Washington state governor and public health officials in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, we are committed to providing all students with a challenging academic experience led by Puget Sound's faculty and complemented by a full range of academic and other support services …
… After significant discussion among our faculty and campus leadership, we have affirmed our intention to deliver an on-campus fall semester, whenever we can begin that semester, with the precautions in place that we will need to ensure the health and safety of the members of our community …
… President Boyd just announced that all campuses in the University of Tennessee System, including our flagship campus here in Knoxville, plan to bring students back for an on-campus experience this fall. This was a decision made in coordination with the campus chancellors …
Overall, in reading through the various college statements, regardless of the degree of motivation to bring students back to campus for fall semester, concern for student health and safety dominates. Most of the schools stating their intention to bring students back this fall also make it clear that they will be obeying all state health regulations and guidelines. This pledge should make parents feel a bit more confident about releasing their sons and daughters into a relatively uncertain set of circumstances.
Fall Sports in Question
What about fall college sports? Here's how the NCAA sees it:
NCAA President Mark Emmert says the coronavirus is making it unlikely all schools will be ready to begin competing in college sports at the same time … Emmert also reiterated a common refrain from college sports leaders in recent weeks: There can be no college sports on campuses that are not open to students.
That makes sense to me because college student-athletes are people, too, and if circumstances aren't deemed safe for the general student population, then they also aren't safe for the athletes. This conundrum is going to cause big challenges for the schools that depend on fall sports (football, mainly) for revenue. The emphasis on student health and safety, as mentioned above, must be paramount for administrators weighing both student return and the financial rewards of fall sports.
The Chronicle's compendium is a valuable resource, especially for high school seniors deciding where to enroll, as well as current students, particularly internationals, whose plans are now up in the air awaiting crucial Fall 2020 decisions. This constantly updated information center provides instant access to needed details with just a click or two. Well done.
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