As the spring semester wraps up, and students begin to think about their options for the fall semester, universities have big decisions to make. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, in the middle of the spring 2020 semester, universities sent their students home and finished the semester through online classes. Now, universities have to decide whether they will open for in-person classes in the fall semester or if they will continue to hold online classes.
This past semester has revealed challenges with online learning that make the prospect of an entire semester online daunting. Although it made sense for colleges to send their students home last semester, many students missed the benefits of learning in-person, and of having access to research labs and art studios. Also, in light of the varying circumstances that students encountered when they returned home, many colleges opted to forgo grades for the Spring 2020 semester, and instead instated a pass/fail system to acknowledge the fact that not everyone had access to wifi or is in the same time zone. Thus, universities themselves recognized that returning home places students on different playing fields and makes it difficult to grade them on the same scale.
If universities choose to hold classes online in the fall, they will find that many students will either take the semester or the year off, and that some will demand tuition reduction for classes online. Classes online are very different from in-person classes, and it is difficult to justify paying the same amount of tuition for an online learning experience. Financially, it is in universities’ best interest to hold in person classes because of the revenues from tuition that they will receive if they hold in-person classes.
However, universities do not want to endanger their community, or open up and be the cause of a coronavirus outbreak. Many professors and university leaders do not believe that in-person classes this fall are feasible or safe. The California State University system recently announced it will hold online classes in the fall. However, other university leaders are hopeful, and many other universities have announced that they will open for in-person classes in the fall, the most surprising being NYU. Any school that opens this fall will have to recognize that an in-person fall 2020 semester will look very different from other fall semesters. Social distancing procedures will be in place, and many of the activities that generate large crowds and social connection in universities will most likely be paused. Universities should be prepared to test students extensively for coronavirus, and have a system in place to handle potential cases. However, as long as the college community can be kept safe, it is in the best interest of students and universities to reopen for the fall semester.