The college application process for the senior class of Covid-19 is clearly an adult research project. Too many seniors are rushing head first into early decision or early action to get the process over with. They don’t realize the problem is not getting into college but graduating with a meaningful career in four years. Research has shown that a low paying entry level job after graduation will stick with them for their working career. At this point in time, nationally, only 50% of college freshman will graduate by the age of 26. (see collegeresults.org) A recent survey of 4000 college students said that 50% of them need a responsive mental health system on campus, 50% doubted the cost of college was worth it and only 33% said they thought the education they were receiving would lead to a meaningful career. These are staggering statistics.
As a starting point, here are four important steps that parents can take to help their child chose the right college that the family can afford.
College administrators have a tough balancing act as they deal with Covid-19. If they are too strict, their policies could backfire with students fearing repercussions during contract tracing or for reporting cases. This is the model Northeastern University has taken with their 50 million dollar “ Protect the Pack “ strategy. If college officials are too relaxed they run the risk that students will spread the virus on campus and in the surrounding community. Tufts University is striking a middle ground and have set up a quarantine residence hall for students who live off campus and test positive. Boston College has no such provisions for students living off campus telling students to quarantine in their apartment or in private houses. Obviously their approach exposes more people to students who have tested positive.
With the number of cases rising drastically over the past 10 days to 92,000, colleges are caught between Covid-19 and politics and this is a problem of their own making. They chose tuition and room and board income to be more important than the apparent safety of their students. As of September 21st Penn State and Providence College are in crisis. Faculty and staff are at risk because the college administrations will not divulge if a student they have been in contact with has tested positively. Their reason is confidentiality of the student’s identity. There seems to be a clear prioritization of testing of football players over the student body. The Boston Globe (9/22) stats no Covid-19 cases on the football team while the students paying $75,000 per year can’t get tested. Health experts warn colleges not to send students home who have tested positive but what happens if their quarantine dorm space is 100% filled? One infected student infects a dozen or more students. These numbers are staggering and have greatly compounded our national health crisis because college students come from a multitude of different locations and they could be spreading the virus in areas that previously had a low infection rate. Colleges need to be working on a student exiting procedure before sending students home in November.
Based on the colleges’ track record, I doubt that there will be a coordinated effort collectively by colleges in the area. Perhaps public health officials need to dictate their policy to all area colleges. Colleges are blaming students for not socially distancing and wearing masks is valid but were college presidents so naïve to think that they could not predict what is happening now or did tuition dollars override their decision to open their campuses.
Summer is usually a period of relative calm for most colleges, but this summer is vastly different. Whether colleges are willing to admit it or not chaos will be reigning in the coming weeks and wishful thinking will not be enough to avoid the unexpected events.
A recent survey shows 60% of colleges are planning for an in-person fall semester while about 10% are planning for a mainly online fall semester. The remaining 30% will have a hybrid approach. Some will have only freshman and upper class students needing to do lab work, others with some combination. Many colleges are reversing course on their previously announced intentions to families. These changes have caused anxiety for the students.
There are a number of factors to consider to predict the success of college’s strategies : Will college students comply with masks and social distancing? If there is a barometer to that question it is that a larger number of large off campus parties have fueled the contagion especially in college towns. Erica Woodley, Dean of Students at Tulane University posted an email on 7th scolding students for their “disrespectful, selfish and dangerous” partying during 4th of July weekend. The next issue is the second relief bill that would have the Federal government help pay for testing. That does not appear to be on the horizon soon for an August in-person return date. Testing is crucial and with the surge of outbreaks across the nation it is taking 4-5 days to get results back and that will not work .The President wants to cut back on testing. There are 500,000 students who go to college in Massachusetts. At $100 per test times three tests per kid that is $150 million dollars.
A huge issue is college football. It is becoming more obvious that college football will not happen in the fall. Many of the Division II and III schools in Massachusetts have already cancelled their seasons once the SEC or ACC cancel their seasons. Many of these colleges have a 40-50K student body. The dam holding back these colleges final decisions about opening will be reversed, causing chaos.
But closures right before the start of the academic year will be brutal for students, faculty members and staff and the broader communities where the colleges are located. College leaders have difficult decisions to make over the coming weeks as they navigate uncharted waters. It is time to batten down the hatches and prepare for the second storm to come instead of hoping that it will miraculously blow over.
College faculty members at the University of Notre Dame and many others across the nation argue that their safety is at stake and that their impact on these monumental decision has been marginalized. Faculty members are saying that they need to make their own decision to teach in person classes in the fall. Some comments from faculty members at Notre Dame are “This is a matter of my civil rights,” and “My class is incompatible with social distancing.” Based on the Cares Act faculty can complete a Covid 19 “reasonable accommodation form.” A professor at Vanderbilt University called the process “pernicious, problematic and coerced” in regards to making is medical records available to Vanderbilt University. Vanderbilt has 85 professors over 65. This does not include those with medical or other health related problems. This number makes up 40% of their faculty.
What does this mean for college students? Classes will be bigger, courses will be limited and some majors will be eliminated. As one college president said, “This is like trying to nail jello to a wall."
For further information contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 978-462-1666.
“My child will get some type of merit scholarship.”
Spoiler: According to a survey by the Wall Street Journal, 92 percent of financial aid counselors say parents overestimate the availability of scholarship money. The average is about $15K per year.
“My child will borrow the amount needed through low interest government loans.”
Spoiler: The federal government actually caps the amount undergraduates can borrow over four years to $27,000. The current interest rate for an unsubsidized Direct Loan is expected to be 2.75% + loan fee of about 1.06%. A college student should not borrow more than their anticipated first year salary.
“Financial aid is only loan money.”
Spoiler: Between 60 to 70 percent of all financial aid packages may be free money in scholarships that doe not have to be repaid.
“We will get no financial aid.”
Spoiler: About 35 percent of parents incorrectly assume they will not get financial aid; 70% of those parents assumed incorrectly. Don’t rule out before you do your research.
“With two children in college, we will have to pay twice the amount.”
Spoiler: The federal Financial Aid formula calculates the expected family
The reopening of college campuses in the fall will be challenging and it will not be a one size fits all approach. It will depend on the location of the college and the demographics of the students. The key will be for the college to get a baseline and intermittently survey the students. What fraction of the student body and how often to survey will require a professional modeler to determine, based on location and student body. Class size will be cut in half so that would mean virtual learning in the dorm. This would allow for six feet of social distancing. Entrances and exit doors will need to be clearly marked and when possible be separated by a “jersey” barrier. Dorm room space would be reduced from triples to doubles. Dining rooms would need to be reconfigured; no outside vendors or visitors and they should have a grab and go option.
How to protect faculty and vulnerable students. The faculty can be protected using a plastic shield in front of the class. Vulnerable students may need to be housed in a local hotel, one per room with main meals to be delivered. First semester would end at Thanksgiving with the students returning after the 1st of the year. Spectators at sporting events would depend on the dynamics of the particular outbreak and the level of infection in the community. If there is very small outbreak then maybe the colleges open up to 30 or 40 percent capacity.
The success and the failure of all this will depend on the student’s cooperation. If a student refuses to wear a mask what are the repercussions? Do you kick them out of class? Or do you have disposable masks at the door with a buzzer to let them in the room. Students will probably feel like they must navigate a minefield going to and from every day and will grow weary with all of the restrictions especially if social gathering are prohibited.
College kids will challenge the rules. The college administration's handling of this will be key.
Based on the volumes of articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education and other major news organizations these are my seven reasons why there will not be students on campus in September 2020.
College students are striking, demanding that college reduce their tuition by 50% for this semester because they are required to do online classes thus “not allowing them what the colleges advertised as an interactive cultural classroom experience” In addition, they are requesting refunds of fees, room deposits, parking permits etc. Lastly, they are requesting colleges freeze the current tuition rate and all college related costs and expenses.
College students have brought lawsuits against a number of colleges including Harvard University, Cornell, Columbia, U. of Miami, OH and Northeastern (and the list keeps growing), for a full refund of all tuition paid, loan forgiveness because the college did not provide them contractually what they paid for; a diverse college experience including interaction with professors and other students. These two developments will make the smooth opening transition that much more difficult.
A college survey of parents on the impact of Covid-19 (as reported by the Hechinger Group) suggest that parents have a deep ambivalence towards current remote learning measures as they are now in place. 36% expressed concerns for their child's mental health and engagement in the coursework. Their second largest concern (32 %) was with their child's learning and skills acquisition. Parent's said, without meaningful improvements in the quality of remote learning or a meaningful reduction in price 40% of students would not choose to matriculate this fall. The survey was conducted between April 10th and 14th. Parents are ambivalent about their child's remote learning experience, with the average satisfaction rating of 5.6 out of 10. Many concerns center around how poorly the online format fits their child's needs, the lack of faculty competence with the new modality and the lack of peer and faculty interactions. These concerns are most pronounced for parents of students at private institutions. I will discuss this further in my next blog post.
Colleges are faced with the dilemma of whether to fully open their campuses in the fall. Below is an updated list of what a small number of colleges are publicizing about their plans. Most, if not all, will need to make a definite decision by June 1st.
My recommendation to high school seniors is to accept to more than one college. This will allow time to explore exactly how those decisions will affect them personally. Students that are at risk may want to ask for a gap year to allow the colleges to work out their Covid testing procedures and changes to their infrastructure to accommodate all students safely.
Here is the most up to date list:
Boston University -- leaning toward in-person classes
Brown University — leaning toward in-person classes
Claremont Colleges — “Committed” to in-person fall classes, but no final decision expected till July 1
Clemson University — exploring a range of scenarios, from in-person classes to entirely online
Cornell University — no decision expected until June
Emory University — likely to decide by early May, according to the student newspaper
George Mason University — says more information could come by early June
George Washington University — will provide "a more detailed communication about our plans for operation by May 15"
Harvard University — "Harvard will be open," but the provost says "we will need to prepare for a scenario in which much or all learning will be conducted remotely."
Haverford College — “We expect on-campus learning to resume for the fall semester.”
Macalester College -- "Our strong preference is to complete two full semesters of on-campus instruction," but says academic calendar may be tweaked and — only if necessary — instruction could be online
Merrimack College — planning to be “residential and open in the fall”
North Carolina State University — “We fully expect to have our new and continuing students on campus for the fall semester.”
Ohio State University — leaning toward in-person classes, with a final decision by late June
Purdue University — planning to start fall semester in person if testing and contact tracing allows
Southern New Hampshire University — planning to allow students to move into dorms, and is offering full tuition scholarships to incoming freshmen
Stanford University -- expects to make a decision in May, but might delay fall quarter till winter
University of Arizona — planning to hold in-person classes
University of Colorado at Boulder — leaning toward a hybrid plan; will announce by June
University of Connecticut — no decision till summer
University of Central Florida — leaning toward in-person classes
University of Maine system — planning for in-person classes
University of Mary Washington — intends to start in-person instruction in August but says "we should also be prepared for the unknown"
University of Maryland system – planning to start in-person, but some larger classes may be online
University of Michigan — hoping to hold classes in-person
University of Pittsburgh — says "back to normal probably is not likely" for the fall
University of South Carolina — decision expected by June 15
University of Texas at Austin — decision expected by the end of June
University of Virginia — plans an update on fall plans by mid June
Virginia Tech — plans to announce in early June
Wake Forest University — “We plan to conduct fall semester classes on campus.”
Williams College — plans to announce by July 1
Yale University — decision expected by early July