The decision to shutter campuses last month because of the coronavirus happened mostly within a two-week window in early- to mid-March. And the result was immediate: classes swiftly moved online within days or weeks.
The ruling on whether to reopen on time in the fall, delay the start of the semester, or continue online is likely to happen over a much longer period in the coming months.
The big picture: The coronavirus crisis moved so fast in March that students, parents, and faculty realized that colleges also had to move quickly to respond, often without a plan. They were patient.
Now, the equation changes for the fall. Students and parents want to know sooner rather than later if their classes are going to be online in the fall, in case they want to make alternative plans, such as taking a year off. Faculty want to know soon as well, so they have time to plan and design their courses.
Why it matters: When to make an announcement about the fall is somewhat out of the hands of college leaders, of course. A lot depends on what their governor and public health officials say. It’s likely that when college leaders feel like they need to make a decision, it will be based on limited information about what life is really going to be like come September.
- Other factors, as a result, will also be considered. A big one: what competitors are doing.
- Once a college makes a decision about what to do and puts it in motion, it will be nearly impossible to reverse. So, no one wants to be first. Everyone is waiting for another college in their state or competitive set to make the decision about fall.
What they’re saying:
During a virtual office hour I hosted about admissions earlier this month, Purdue University’s Kris Wong Davis said
the university would like to make a decision about the fall “sometime in May.”
Lehigh University’s president, John Simon, wrote in a letter to parents last week that he plans to “provide an update on our approach in June so that students, faculty, staff, and families know what to expect.”
What’s next: Once a decision is made about what the fall will look like in terms of operations, the next big decision is how anything short of a regular, on-campus experience will be priced. Most colleges want to keep their tuition levels steady—and for good reason. Their instructional costs remain the same, and in many cases have increased because of technology.
When I posted a poll on Twitter last night, many agreed that there shouldn’t be a tuition cut this fall. But on some campuses, students and parents are already clamoring for one, even this spring, as The Washington Post
’s Nick Anderson recently reported