Higher education, like most sectors of the economy, has been slow to come around to our new reality. At first, colleges moved spring classes online for a few weeks. Then they canceled the spring semester. Then they canceled commencement and moved the deadline for freshman deposits to June 1.
Only now are colleges beginning to talk about the fall.
Whether campuses will roar back to life come September was by far the top question asked in the two virtual events I moderated last week (in Zoom webinars, the audience can “upvote” questions).
The big picture:
36% of college presidents think serious disruption awaits campuses in the fall, according to a survey
in late March by American Association of Colleges and Universities and ABC Insights.
If campuses open up in September, the big worry is a fall surge in coronavirus cases, and a repeat of this spring: a scramble to send students home and move courses online.
- The fast pivot to remote education wasn’t ideal this spring, but students and parents were willing to cut colleges a break because no one had really planned for what happens in a global pandemic.
- If the fall semester is disrupted, however, students and parents will be much less patient with colleges and more demanding about what they expect for their tuition dollars.
“What I would predict is that we are going to be making our decision on whether we are going to be residential or in a remote learning situation by X date, so all students and faculty and staff can be prepared for that.” - Chris Gruber, dean of admission and financial aid at Davidson College
The fall is online, although an announcement on that front really needs to come in June or July, not August.
A delayed opening, with a compressed fall semester.
“Low residency,” where small cohorts of students cycle through campus at any one time, remain sequestered, and are tested often.
A smaller student body, where those who have tested positive for Covid-19 are allowed to return and everyone else joins classes remotely.
Yes, yes, yes….all of those options have issues, and some might be unworkable and expensive, but everything seems to be on the table right now, and much of it depends on the availability of testing and some kind of treatment short of a vaccine.