What will college classes be like in the fall of 2020?

August 28, 2020

Categories: Health, Safety, Travel Tips,

Amid rapidly changing circumstances, institutions of higher education have made significant progress in their preparations for welcoming students back. But what about the faculty and administration?

Students are returning to campus and institutions have equal responsibility to ensure not only their student body is protected, but also their entire professional workforce.

Much like parents and students, sentiment among faculty and staff regarding their return to campus ranges anywhere from confident to concerned.

In late July, Cal Matters published a piece exploring reopening viewpoints from different faculty members and the challenges institutions are facing to keep their employees safe.

“No university is saying their instruction is going to look exactly the same as last fall,” said Dr. Sarah Van Orman, chief health officer for USC Student Health.

New Responsibilities

For students, part of returning to campus requires new adherence to policies and conduct codes, bringing on a totally new responsibility.

Faculty and staff will have to adapt to new responsibilities, too.

According to recent American College Health Association guidelines, “The college/university must build the necessary staffing capacity to resume not only their primary responsibilities but also the competency to understand role in reducing transmission of COVID-19. Faculty and staff must be protected, trained and adequately prepared.”

The coronavirus pandemic initially sent colleges and universities scrambling to adapt to remote learning in mid-spring – ultimately prompting question marks surrounding the idea of what college classes will be like in fall 2020.

As academic leadership continues to navigate these questions marks, colleges and universities are opting for a variety of different reopening models. Some models include an all-remote learning approach, others all in-person and some a hybrid of both, each coming with additional contingencies.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is currently tracking reopening plans for nearly 3,000 national institutions. Among the data, 23% plan to return primarily or fully in person, while 33% will return primarily or fully online. Fifteen percent will return with a hybrid model, while 24% are still deciding.

The Chronicle notes these percentages aren’t truly representative of the entire story though, further segmenting institutions into categories like two-year and four-year colleges as well as private and public universities, revealing even more disparity among reopening plans leaning one way or another.

Institutions with students already returning to college campuses have widely seen mixed results in terms of their ability to keep COVID-19 outbreaks under control to ultimately protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and the wider community in which they are located.

Equipped with guidelines, plans and protocols, the question of what will college classes be like in the fall is largely one even institutions are struggling to answer. The nature of the coronavirus pandemic is constantly changing, which makes predicting much of anything an impossible task.

Getting Creative

The ACHA guidelines for reopening campuses include several considerations for instruction and learning environments. Professors are getting with some of the guidelines, which include limiting the number of attendees for in-person courses and developing a physical distancing plan for each course.

In an NPR segment on six ways college might look different in the fall, Elissa Nadwory notes, “To follow social distancing, professors are measuring their classrooms, calculating how many students could fit in the space if they were 6 feet apart. Deans are planning out how students could enter and exit the classrooms safely.”

“Instead of having a class of 18 and meeting for three hours, I think what I’ll be doing is meeting with groups of six for an hour each,” said Robin McCloskey, an adjunct lecturer at Dominican University.

UC San Francisco epidemiologist Jeffrey Martin suggested to Cal Matters, “If faculty and students teach in outdoor conditions, they could see each other in small groups.”

USNews recently reported that Rice University in Texas announced plans to build four temporary structures and erect five large tents to use as lecture halls, study areas and student meeting spaces. Syracuse University also announced the purchase of 21 teaching tents for each of its Main and South campuses.

As colleges and universities in the United States continue to roll out their reopening plans, expect they’ll continue to evolve with the unique circumstances the coronavirus pandemic will continue to present.

In the meantime, visiting professors and students can take an extra strep to prepare for their return to campus with a Global Rescue membership, which provides access to critical services for members more than 100 miles from home.

Students, faculty and staff have access to advisory, evacuation and intelligence services with a Global Rescue travel membership. Click here to learn more about membership options.

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