Colleges lay groundwork for fall, with or without pandemic

Apr 26, 2020 by

Everyone’s asking what happens in the fall. Nothing is firm, but some colleges are telegraphing their intentions.

By Lilah Burke –

The talk around what college is going to look like in the fall is still, for now, just talk. The difficult calls have not been made, those hard-to-send emails have not been sent. The question of whether campuses will be closed to students is still in many ways an open one.

But every day the picture gets clearer. Some universities, if they have not made firm decisions, have indicated where they’re leaning.

Two universities in the California State University system, San José State and Cal State Fullerton, have been open about considering and planning for a fall semester online. Though officials at those colleges have emphasized that nothing is set in stone, they are getting everything in order for a possible virtual semester.

The opposite is true at some other universities, which have said that they are preparing for a semester on campus. Purdue University president Mitch Daniels sent a letter to the university’s constituents this week explaining that the administration is looking at separating people by age and vulnerability and limiting class sizes in the fall.

He did not mention the possibility of a fully online semester and said that the virus poses a near “zero lethal threat” to the under-35 age group, which makes up 80 percent of the total community.

William Jewell College in Missouri similarly announced that the administration is planning for an on-campus semester.

One reason for the differences in messaging might be location. Fullerton and San José are in some of the most populous metropolitan areas in the country. West Lafayette, Ind., and Liberty, Mo., are much less dense.

Chuck Staben, former president of the University of Idaho, said that institutions like Purdue and his own may be more likely to emphasize a face-to-face start.

“A residential campus like the University of Idaho that’s in a fairly isolated location depends so much on really bringing students to that location,” he said. “They’re going to try very hard to have a face-to-face semester.”

Staben noted that public and private colleges may also have different pressures.

“Private institutions, of course, aside from maybe the very top ones, are extremely tuition dependent. I think they will be under a lot of pressure to have face-to-face classes rather than online classes, because I think we’re seeing student dissatisfaction with paying normal tuition for online classes,” he said. “The higher the tuition, probably the greater that level of dissatisfaction.”

Source: Colleges lay groundwork for fall, with or without pandemic

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