The end of campus life: What colleges will look like in the fall, from Zoom classes to deserted quads and sports stadiums
Juliana Kaplan | May 5, 2020, 11:08 PM
The pandemic has already forced colleges around the world to abruptly shift to online instruction. Traditional collegiate events — like graduation, performances, and athletics — have all been cancelled. But as the current disrupted semester wraps up, a new question looms: What next?
Harvard says it will open in fall 2020, but is preparing “for a scenario in which much or all learning will be conducted remotely.” Princeton has asked its faculty to prepare for the fall under the “assumption that their classes will be online.”
Other colleges — like the University of Notre Dame — will announce their decisions over the summer.
University of Missouri System President Mun Choi has become “less optimistic” about a full reopening in the fall, according to the Columbia Missourian. In Michigan, Oakland University will have a “hybrid” approach of in-person and virtual instruction, Bridge Michigan reports.
And, for the schools that do open, life will look different. In an op-ed for The New York Times, Brown University President Christina Paxson wrote that she envisions empty stadium stands, spaced patrons at campus performances, and Zoom parties.
But even if colleges reopen, they’ll likely face a far reduced freshman class — and fewer students overall
One survey of 1,100 current high school seniors and college students by higher-ed research and marketing firm SimpsonScarborough found that 10% of high school seniors will no longer attend a four-year institution.
And students already in school are also reportedly hesitant to return: Four-year institutions could see an overall 20% decline in enrollment, with 26% of current students surveyed saying that it was unlikely or “too soon to tell” if they will return.
“Almost all of my students who have been admitted to top-tier colleges are reconsidering their plans for this upcoming academic year, with some submitting gap year request forms to delay the start of their freshman year so that they can have the full college experience,” college admissions consultant Christopher Rim, the CEO of Command Education, told Business Insider over email.
According to the survey results, 41% of minority high school students said they likely won’t attend college in the fall or it’s “too soon to tell.” Only 24% of white high school seniors said the same.
Another complicating factor is international students. Travel restrictions are constantly in flux. Pushing the school year’s start to January could potentially be a safer bet for students coming from different countries, as one contingency plan from Boston University outlines. And before settling on a likely remote return in the fall, Princeton had also contemplated a January start.
Foreign nationals traveling from China are currently not allowed to enter the United States, which could have a major impact on international student populations. According to the Institute of International Education, China was the largest source of international students in the 2018-2019 school year.
Gap years could see a huge surge in popularity, although Rim said it’s “uncertain” how colleges will approve or deny requests for a deferral.
Online classes may evolve — and in-person classes could shrink and intensify
Students shouldn’t expect to return to lecture halls packed with hundreds of students anytime soon — and even online learning could look different in the fall. Princeton has already said that it will hire more teaching assistants and preceptors for additional instruction if the school goes remote in the fall.
“Distance learning requires a more differentiated and individualized approach to learning than traditional campuses,” Janet Wolfe, the head of the IDEAL School of Manhattan, told Business Insider in an email. “Lecture halls and factual tests are less impactful on Zoom, where students can multitask, chat, surf the web, and tune out a speaker or topic that is not engaging them personally. The lack of physical proximity also widens the gap between teachers and students.”
Wolfe added that schools could shift towards shorter and more intense seminar-style courses, which could help stagger the number of students on campus.
For many students, the residential and social experience of college is a huge draw — but it’s also what makes them particularly hazardous during the pandemic
In a letter to the Purdue University community, President Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. outlined the unique challenges that residential schools face: “Now, sadly and ironically, the very density we have consciously fostered is, at least for the moment, our enemy.”
Social activities, where students can often meet like-minded peers and hone skills that prepare them for post-graduate opportunities, are often a big draw for students choosing to enroll. Niche, which compiles college rankings, has a whole page devoted to colleges with the best student life.
“Academically, all students will be missing out on opportunities that require being physically on-campus to take advantage of, such as research, study abroad programs, and in-person internships,” Rim said. “But just as importantly, students will also be missing out on the school traditions and social gatherings that define the college experience.”
The convenience of college social life is the very thing that makes it dangerous: constant proximity to one another, and the ability to quickly gather in groups. How that can continue — or if it will — is unknowable right now.
One tweet issuing a warning to freshmen about starting school online in the fall has over 43,500 retweets and 203,700 likes.
It says: “If you’re an incoming freshman and classes are still online next semester, please save your money and enroll in a community college.”
Originally published in the Business Insider on May 5, 2020.