This week, Stanford announced tentative plans for their undergrads to rotate to campus for one out of three semesters starting in the Fall — incoming freshman on campus for the Fall term, outgoing seniors on campus for Spring, undecided who will be on campus otherwise. Most graduate and doctoral students will remain online-only.
For those bschools that are going to attempt an on-campus option (we haven’t actually heard definitively of any yet but we know some want to try) we thought we’d offer some ideas to you folks of what it might be like. What we’ll cover today may seem super obvious but it’s worth spelling out, since we’ve had discussions with some folks who seem not to quite appreciate the impact that coronavirus is having on the experience of getting an education.
The virus isn’t going away, and eventually, all universities will be going back to on-campus instruction. Whether that happens in the Fall with the next start of the year, or not till Fall 2021 as some schools have already announced, eventually, schools will go back to in-person teaching, and it’s highly likely that the coronavirus will still be a threat to the world in some form or another when that happens. Even after a vaccine becomes available, and it’s tested, and distributed, and people have access to it — which is a lot of separate events that need to occur — the virus will still be present and circulating in America. At this point, it’s unrealistic to believe it will be stamped out completely. Even polio still exists in the world after a concerted effort to get rid of it, and as recently as 2019, there were outbreaks of measles in different parts of the U.S. Those are viral diseases for which safe and effective vaccines have existed for a very long time, yet humans are still susceptible to them for a variety of epidemiological reasons.
So. With that as the backdrop — knowing that either sooner, or later, there will be a reopening of schools and when that happens, coronavirus will still be in the picture — what will the student experience involve when it happens?
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What most university presidents want to avoid is to issue an order to open campus, to bring all students and faculty back — and then to have a spike in infections and an overloaded medical system in their region, which forces them to close campus again. They really really don’t want that to happen. That’s like the worst-case scenario because obviously of the risk to health and safety and so many people who could die, and it could also cause lots of students to permanently drop out. Most school administrators see it as far better to not bring students back too early, if there’s a possibility that campus would have to be shut down again and all of them sent home. That disruption is too hard on people, not just because of the difficulty of moving so often (which truly and totally sucks) but also because of the disruption to the actual education. Teachers don’t like teaching online but it’s way worse for them if they are teaching in person and then have to convert to online mid-semester.
Not that teachers have much say in what happens. If you ask, many of them will tell you they feel powerless among all of these changes.
Trying to avoid that flip-flop problem, and the fallout that would occur if schools had to close mid-term again, might mean that more schools opt for online only for more programs or majors. We are still waiting to see how these announcements will actually materialize into re-openings or not.
The march towards uncertainty continues.