Jill Haley: Attending college during a pandemic
It is clear from recent surveys that students want to attend college in-person this fall. A reported 65% of colleges plan on having some students on their campuses, but are struggling to find ways to keep students safe while being creative in how they will provide instruction. Most have eliminated, or drastically reduced activities such as sporting events, concerts and sorority and fraternity functions.
The nine University of California campuses will operate primarily online, but UC President Janet Napolitano announced that “most, if not all of our campuses will operate in some kind of hybrid mode.” In-person classes will include science labs and small discussion seminars.
UCLA plans to offer up to 20% of their classes on campus including preforming arts.
In addition, Napolitano has directed each individual campus to make their own decisions regarding campus housing. UC Davis plans on housing students but residence halls “will have reduced density.” UC Santa Barbara students must show proof of a negative test and then will be asked to stay on campus for the entire quarter.
Private colleges vary greatly in their campus policies. One recent publication, “Inside Higher Ed,” highlights two similarly ranked liberal arts colleges and their different approaches to serving their students. One college in Maine, Bowdoin, plans to bring a limited number of students to their campus. They include freshmen, who will have their own dorm room with no roommates, and seniors working in honors programs needing faculty support. All other students will be in their home towns studying and attending class online.
Middlebury college, located in Vermont, has announced it will welcome all of their students back to campus in the fall with instruction offered online and in person. Added safety measures include frequent testing and being quarantined if exposed. Parents will no longer be allowed into the dorms on move-in day and travel off campus will be strongly discouraged.
Once on campus, will students be able to social distance and wear masks? Is this asking too much for an age group who have a tendency to gather in large groups? Recent publicity highlighting crowded teenage parties with little social distancing and a resulting surge in COVID-19 cases suggest not.
College professors, many of them over the age of 50, are not so sure they want to return to a campus where many of their students could be asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers. “Until there’s a vaccine, I’m not setting foot on campus,” Dana Ward, 70, an emeritus professor of political studies at Pitzer College, told the New York Times. “Going into the classroom is like playing Russian roulette.”
With the fall semester beginning in two months, there does not seem to be a consensus about how best to keep students and faculty safe from the virus, leaving parents confused and wondering if they should send their students back to college at all. With limited class offering and drastically reduced extra-curricular activities, students want to attend but are trying to decide if it is worth it. Gap Year anyone?
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