College administrators are proposing two scenarios for the 2020-21 school year, first, a hybrid model of modified residential on-campus living + online instruction + limited in-person instruction and secondly, continuing distance learning with no on-campus residency. With either model, students’ college experience is severely curtailed.
Incoming UCLA freshmen, who are not able to acquire housing, which is traditionally guaranteed, are rankled. Triple occupancy rooms are now double occupancy, as staff reduce the density in residence halls. Now, many UCLA first years will either navigate the tight Los Angeles housing market or stay home for their first college term. Either way, freshmen are dismayed, which UCLA administrators are challenged to overcome in order to retain students.
A Stanford sophomore is frustrated about modified on-campus living, believing administrators are giving freshmen preferential treatment. Freshmen will be welcomed for Fall 2020, while no plans have been announced for sophomores return to campus, despite his and his classmates’ freshmen year being truncated in Spring 2020 and freshmen having four full years for the “Stanford Experience”.
Additionally, students and parents question the high tuition and housing costs for limited college experiences and online classes. Even if students return to campuses, guest lectures, football games, and other events may likely be cancelled, radically reducing their experience. Plus, as outbreaks of infection persist, students may once again be summarily evicted at any time during the school year, creating questions about the possibility of recouping their costs.
Professors forecast an altered classroom experience, as masks muffle their voices and they can’t see students’ facial expressions to adjust their pedagogy in realtime, potentially being less effective teachers. Plus, classroom interaction may be restricted for social distancing, so discussions, a hallmark of learning, may be muted at best. Students may not have the academic experience needed to learn effectively despite in person classes.
Furthermore, as university communities currently exist in a diaspora, administrators will be challenged to reconnect everyone, accounting for the irritations of students, faculty and tuition-paying parents. Strengthening everyone’s commitment to the university community is essential, as all will need to continue compromising their expectations and modifying behavior.
As Reed College President, Audrey Bilger, states:
I am optimistic for our return, and that optimism arises from my belief that Reed is a community that asks, “What do I need to do to protect the most vulnerable among us?” It will take the vigilance and determination of the community as a whole to reduce the risk for all of us. We will need to ask daily, “What can I do to protect my fellow Reedies?”—and I know we are the type of community that already asks that question every day.– June 30, Dr. Bilger’s email to the Reed community
Are administrators, students, parents and faculty at other colleges confident their communities will rally together?
In this age of COVID induced disruption, administrators have the opportunity to innovate, to implement the changes that may have long been brewing, strengthening the university as an institution. Then, post-pandemic, universities can more effectively educate students. What happens next remains to be seen.
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