College, Fall 2020, & COVID-19
When you last heard from me, I presented two opposing viewpoints about attending college this fall.
The one most non-higher-ed people liked went something like, “Have your kids stay home this year. Why take the risk? They need to slow down and take a break anyway. Maybe they can find something interesting – like work as a barista or at Home Depot or at an internship in media or at a law or investment firm or at a veterinarian’s office – that will enrich them and provided dining out stories for decades.”
The other one – which most of my colleagues in tuition-dependent colleges loved – was more like, “Go ahead, send them to college! They won’t be able to get jobs or internships anyway. Why have them loafing around the house all year? Don’t we all have to get back to our lives? Plus, colleges will fail financially if they have no students.”
Since mid-March, colleges have been trying to figure out what to do, and students and their parents have been anxiously waiting for THE PLAN. University presidents and their staff and faculty, excruciatingly aware of the need to know, have been doing their best to communicate well all along. But it’s been tough going. If you haven’t seen this TikTok video by @sonofgerald, aka AudreyFitz, you owe it to yourself to take a look. It’s a riot.
Anyway, so here we are. Colleges have been working feverishly to do the right thing for their students, faculty, and staff, and have gotten impressively creative.
Unity College, one of my faves, with the tagline “America’s environmental college,” is giving students eight different entry points in the year so that they can dip in and dip out as they like. They have eschewed tuition discounting; instead, the costs are advertised upfront, and their rates for on-campus and online differ, which seems the logical thing, but it’s not what most schools seem to be doing.
Bowdoin is welcoming all new first-year and transfer students as well as any students who have internet connection or other issues at home as well as seniors who can only do their capstone projects on campus. Everyone else is invited to stay put. Tuition will remain the same for their fewer than 2,000 students.
Harvard, with about 7,000 undergrads, will house all first-year students for the fall and all seniors for the spring as well as all students “who may not be able to learn successfully in their current home learning environment.” (Unsurprisingly, no change in tuition here.)
Middlebury’s 3,000 students can return to campus, but some classes will be held remotely.
CUNY, which serves almost 300,000 students a year, has wisely postponed the decision, but they can afford to since their students are mostly local.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s over 25,000 students will start classes on time but will finish finals before Thanksgiving and then have the chance to take mini-courses between Thanksgiving and the usual winter break. UNL, like many schools that are worried about their enrollment numbers, are offering some sharp discount programs.
And Marymount Manhattan College, a little known but extraordinary gem of a college on Manhattan’s upper east side, is going with what they call a “Virtual Classes/Open Campus” design. What I love about this one is that students who want to or need to leave their homes can live on campus and attend their courses from their dorm rooms, AND they can use the campus in socially distanced ways for engaging with their peers, faculty, and the college staff. This seems to me the best of all possible worlds.
I could go on and on and have already gone on too long, I know.
Unfortunately, right now and for the foreseeable future, every single person in higher education is holding their breath. We all know that THE PLAN is tenuous at best. It could be upended in a month or even a week if the news about this virus takes a turn for the worse. Then, in spite of the thousands of hours and immense creativity that have gone into sculpting the plan, we might all be staying home for the 2020-2021 academic year.