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.