learn about COVID-19, its impact, and what you can do about it.
As September approaches, students and parents are left to decide whether or not it is safe for kids and teachers to return to the classroom. With dwindling admission numbers, U.S. colleges and universities are left struggling to come up with a safe way to keep students on campus while simultaneously trying to resolve the issues of dorms, parties, large class sizes, and sports events that students crave from the more traditional college experience. Many schools, such as Syracuse, Bates, and UC Berkeley, who plan to reopen with all of their students on campus, are requiring students to sign codes of conduct with penalties for violating COVID-19 rules that are more severe than their punishments for smoking marijuana. The University of Texas-Austin and UC Berkeley have specifically banned overnight guests in dorm rooms and warned students that they can be disciplined for “purposefully invading the personal space of others,” without a face mask on. These big universities believe with access to their large campus health centers and medical schools they can ensure that the COVID-19 tests that are required among entry, as well as twice a month, can be returned within 24 to 48 hours to limit possible transmissions if there is a positive case. Then, there are other universities, like the University of Kentucky and West Virginia University that are presenting a more lenient approach, adopting existing honor codes that urge students to “promote personal responsibility and peer accountability” since they are adults and can consent to putting themselves at risk. Even with smaller class sizes, the prestigious universities of Harvard, Yale, and Stanford will keep all classes online, but allow freshmen to stay on campus for the fall so those high school seniors can at least enjoy some aspects of a “normal” freshman year. Then in the spring, seniors will get to come back for events like graduation.
On the other side of the spectrum lies schools such as the University of Georgia, University of Alabama, and Penn State, where over 30,000 students are being allowed to return to campus while pushing for football to return. Students may be eager to return to school, but an at risk-faculty is not. 37% of tenure-track professors are 55 or older and are twice as likely as other workers to stay on the job past 65. More than 850 members of the Georgia Tech faculty and 1,000 of the Penn State faculty have signed a letter opposing the school’s reopening plans for the fall, demanding that faculty be given autonomy in the decision process for reopening the large universities. Some believe they should have the choice to hold classes either fully remote, in person, or a hybrid of the two without having to disclose a reason, whether that be due to an underlying health condition or the need to take care of a family member at home. The University of Florida, located in the country’s current epicenter, is not requiring students to be tested before they arrive on campus for in-person learning unless they are an athlete or show symptoms.
These decisions have left many students wondering, is it worth it? Princeton University, a school that has gone fully remote for the fall semester, has discounted its tuition by 10% whereas Harvard has increased their tuition by close to 3% from last year. In the spring, 16% of high school seniors had already decided they were going to take a gap year due to the pandemic, and with many colleges closed until January, that number continues to rise. As the school year fast approaches, those once optimistic plans for the fall that universities advertised in the spring have been rolled back to reveal the grim reality that the coronavirus will continue to rear its ugly head for many months to come. Unfortunately, no one knows if these egregious testing models will work or how profoundly learning online will affect the academic and emotional side of a student’s mind. Colleges are changing decisions by the week so we can only hope that all students alike will continue to be vigilant about the dangers of coronavirus no matter what environment they are in.
Written by Margot Galligan
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