Here’s How Colleges Are Planning to Reopen Amid COVID-19 Threat

For many campuses, a fall reopening is contingent on coronavirus testing availability and the capacity to socially distance students.

Here’s How Colleges Are Planning to Reopen Amid COVID-19 Threat

As states continue to lay out plans for reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, colleges and universities are doing the same.

Campuses are announcing their “phased” reopening approaches, carefully curating messages to their communities that stress any proposed plan can change based on the trajectory of the virus and continuously evolving state mandates.

A few sentiments seem to be prevalent in most colleges’ announcements: campuses will not reopen at full capacity in the fall and social distancing measures will need to be put into place for the parts of campuses that do reopen.

Significant considerations for campuses planning to reopen for the fall semester include class sizes, student housing, food service, sanitation efforts, COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) availability, and quarantine plans for students or staff who become sick, among other things. All of these factors are a significant undertaking, which is why many colleges are creating committees and task forces to divide and conquer.

University of Georgia (UG) President Jere Morehead, along with four other presidents at colleges in the University System of Georgia (USG), have worked together to determine the best approach to a phased reopening, reports 11 Alive. USG Chancellor Steve Wrigley accepted the presidents’ recommendations to consider a “staggered, phased-in approach” that is “appropriate for the unique needs of each campus.”

As a result, Wrigley established nine workgroups to “begin evaluating a smooth transition to full operations.” The working groups, which will be led by senior administrators and nearly 140 faculty and staff members, will address workplace and health safety, instruction, research, public service and outreach, student life, enrollment management, athletics, communications, and fiscal impact.

“Guidance could be subject to change, even after our plans are put in place,” Morehead emphasized to the UG community. “We will need to remain flexible and patient as we move forward.”

The provost office at the University of Michigan (UM), which has three campuses, has created several committees to focus solely on fall semester academic planning, according to MLive.

“These committees will partner with Student Life and other areas as needed, and their scopfwill be comprehensive,” President Mark Schlissel wrote in a message to the campus community Tuesday. “Issues they will consider include the many types of instruction that take place at UM, co-curricular activities and engaged learning, and the resources available from our Center for Academic Innovation, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, and Information and Technology Services.”

To help plan the logistics for reopening campus in the fall, the College of Idaho is appointing multiple task forces to focus on areas such as student life, academics, athletics/activities and facilities, reports Idaho News 6. For each of these areas, the task forces are developing contingency plans and timelines for all areas of student life, including class sizes, housing, dining, events, sanitation and hygiene.

“Our plan is to share more specific details with our extended Yote family by the end of May,” co-presidents Doug Brigham and Jim Everett wrote in a letter to the community. “But we feel it is critical that we communicate now our continuing commitment to in-person classes, on-campus living, and a timely start to the Fall semester.”

Boise State University announced Thursday its plan to return to on-campus learning in the fall — a reintegration process that will be overseen by a campus committee with guidance from public health experts, state and local government officials, and other subject matter experts, according to The Idaho Stateman.

The committee, which will provide more specific information on the plan by May 25, will look at various concerns, including the return of campus employees, reopening student housing, offering in-person classes with fewer students, and preparing for a possible resurgence of COVID-19 cases during the fall semester.

Social Distancing Through Smaller Classes, Group Restrictions

Class sizes are also an issue for many campuses. University of California (UC) System President Janet Napolitano said its 10 campuses, which consist of approximately 280,000 students, will offer classes in the fall but it is still unknown how the instruction will be given.

“It might be remote. It might be in person. It might be some sort of hybrid,” said Napolitano, who is the former governor of Arizona and secretary of Homeland Security. “I think it’s fair to say that none of our campuses will be fully reopened, like we’ve turned a light switch and all of a sudden COVID-19 was gone and it went away.”

At Brown University, President Christina Paxson said the need for social distancing in the classroom will likely lead to doing away with large, in-person lectures in favor of smaller classes, reports CNBC.

Arizona State University (ASU), the University of Arizona (UA) and Northern Arizona University (NAU) presidents announced their plan to resume in-person classes in the fall at 50% capacity, according to AZ Central.

“There’s nothing like — even if we’re sitting 12 feet apart — to be able to have that person-to-person, face-to-face interactions with their mentors, their advisers, their friends and to be part of the campus,” said UA President Robert Robbins.

Reduced class sizes are obviously less of a problem for smaller campuses such as Drury College in Springfield, Missouri. Its already small class sizes leaves room for more flexibility and options for social distancing.

“Our size and scale allows us to be nimble and formulate ideas and plans that will meet the needs of our students without compromising the integrity of Drury’s high-engagement classroom experience,” said Provost Dr. Beth Harville. “As always at Drury, it will not be a one-size-fits-all approach. There are likely to be customized solutions in each discipline, from the sciences to the arts to the humanities.”

Drury’s Student Health and Public Safety Committee is also considering changes that will need to be made to residential life — including increasing the number of single-occupancy rooms and making adjustments to food services, like take-out only from dining halls.

To further enforce social distancing, campuses like Purdue University are acknowledging that schools will likely have to ban social gatherings above a certain size and limit students’ ability to have visitors on campus or travel away from campus. Others are discussing the possibility of only inviting certain students back to campus, such as freshmen for whom an on-campus orientation is key.

Similar to the professional sports world, campuses are also preparing for the potential of sporting events without spectators.

Widespread Testing, Student Quarantining Plans Needed

For many campuses, a fall reopening is contingent on testing availability and detailed plans for quarantining infected students.

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About the Author


Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

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