The 2020-21 school year plans of 1075 colleges, almost a third of all colleges in the US, as compiled by The Chronicle of Higher Education
While the pandemic shows no sign of abating, increasingly college administrators are wrangling with how to maintain the efficacy of their institutions in a time of crisis. As crowded school buildings and densely populated college residence halls create a significant public health risk, given the virulence of COVID-19, how can our young and young adults learn, while getting sick or risking spreading the virus amongst those more at risk populations?
Multiple constituencies have a stake in restating the educational institution to its pre-COVID condition, including parents, students, professors, administrators, staff, local governments, business owners and other educational vendors. Yet, as is already the case, the various groups clash in their needs and ideas about how to manage the educational process during the 2020-21 school year.
Some students, many of whom are upperclassmen, are not overly eager to move back to college campuses, as they’re just waiting for the certification, or graduation ceremonies. While other students, many of whom are underclassmen, are signing housing leases near campus, regardless if classes will recommence in person or not, simply, as one second year college student told me, she wants any semblance of a college experience before the time to do so elapses and is lost forever.
In parent social media groups, moms and dads seek advice, worried about sending kids back campuses in states currently experiencing record numbers of reported COVID cases, like California, Texas, Florida and others. Although, they also lament that their kids are not having a college experience as expected, and many continue to pay for leases of empty apartments while their children are home are hoping that normalcy will soon be restored.
While faculty at Purdue, Georgia Tech, Penn State, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and elsewhere are calling for greater participation in the planning process, as well as voicing concerns about their health risks, knowing that enforcing social distancing amongst college-aged students is a difficult at best. Furthermore, adding a “policing” component to staff and faculty’s job duties detracts from their primary educational purpose.
Local government officials, who count on the discretionary spending of college students and those affiliated with the college, are also witnessing the dwindling of their coffers. According to The Hechinger Report, University of Michigan officials estimate students and university affiliates spend nearly $95 million a year in Ann Arbor, including approximately $12 million per football game. Without such spending, thousands of small businesses may be bankrupted.
To compound the challenge of educating students in the 2020-21 school year, as we discussed in Managing a Return to Normal in the Time of COVID-19, county public health officials, local, state and federal government officials often will mandate how educational institutions can operate, as the public health risks warrant, given the ever-evolving mutation of a virus only complicating efforts of all stakeholders to meet what will essentially be a moving target.
In such challenging circumstances, educational officials will need to remain flexible, which will require listening to the various disparate constituencies. Without such widespread participation, university officials will not be able to create a continuity of education both during the pandemic as well as manage the intermediate and long term effects of this health care crisis in order to remain viable institutions that are essential to maintaining a civil society.
Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, is Educational Partner at Creative Marbles Consultancy. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators, helping nurture the next generation. Follow her on Twitter