July 10, 2020

Colleges and universities plan…and re-plan…for Fall 2020

As we head into the summer months, college and university officials are anxiously keeping track of the ebb and flow of the COVID-19 pandemic. As they engage in an all-consuming effort to plan for all contingencies, pondering the best and safest ways to continue educating their students, officials have difficult decisions to make—and they must be made soon.

Nothing is off the table, from alternative calendars to innovative food service. “The fundamental issue isn’t whether colleges should reopen in August but how institutions can do it safely,” says Inside Higher Ed. In-person, online education and hybrid models are all under consideration. Many officials wonder if campuses should open at all. 

For example:

  • Many schools have re-structured their academic calendars. Some universities, such as the University of Texas at Austin, Purdue University, Notre Dame and Tulane University, are hoping to open their campuses in August and end first semester in-person instruction by Thanksgiving break. Fall break may be eliminated; first semester exams may be virtual, and winter break may be extended.
  • Some schools have decided that the most expedient course of action is for their campus to remain closed for the fall. The California State University system chancellor expects that the entire system of 23 campuses will move ahead with a “virtual planning framework.” Most courses in the fall are likely to be online. 
  • Each of the Ivy League schools has outlined a plan for Fall 2020. Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, which currently plan to open their campuses to all students, have created  “hybrid models” of instruction. Some schools have decided that only portions of the school population will be allowed on campus at one time. Harvard University recently announced that while all undergraduate classes will be remote this fall, only 40 percent of its undergraduates, mostly freshmen, will be invited to live on campus. Princeton University, which is also planning for remote instruction, is expected to allow freshmen and juniors on campus for the fall semester followed by sophomores and seniors in the spring. 
  • Whether students are on campus or not, many large lectures will be held remotely while small classes may be offered with social distancing requirements. Stanford University Provost Persis Drell even indicated that they are considering holding classes in outdoor tents in order to “take advantage of the weather” and potentially slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • Living on college campuses will be quite different as a result of COVID-19. Alternative living arrangements are under consideration. Some schools have decided to limit dorm rooms to single occupancy. Others are considering the idea of renting space in local hotels. Intensive cleaning and safety measures in classrooms, lecture halls, bathrooms and dorms, such as those being implemented by the University of Montana, are essential.
  • In terms of campus dining, buffet-style and cafeterias may be replaced by “Grab-and-Go” meals. Only limited numbers of students will be allowed in food courts and dining halls at one time, and distancing will be required.  Dining  service providers like Aramark plan to offer “easy-to-assemble, take-home meals.” They will drop condiment pumps in favor of pre-packaged condiments and pre-portioned toppings. A movement to expand mobile ordering and contactless pick-up or desk delivery will also encourage social distancing. 
  • Of course, plans may need to be modified as states like Arizona, Florida and Texas show increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases and others like Maine, Vermont and Montana show lower numbers. These numbers may guide reconsideration of opening policies in universities like the University of Arizona and the University of South Florida.
  • The CDC’s guide for institutions of higher learning is being updated regularly, and school administrations have enormous tasks ahead of them. According to The Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student newspaper, even professors don’t know for certain which classes they will be teaching on campus and which will be done remotely. 
  • All across the country, decisions about holding sports events and social activities, conducting regular testing for COVID-19, wearing masks and making contingency plans for possible later outbreaks should be made by the time the fall semester begins.

How to find out what specific colleges are planning:

  • The Chronicle of Higher Education offers an excellent and continuously updated alphabetical list of colleges and their plans for reopening.  
  • Business Outsider also continues to monitor the plans for the top universities in the country.
  • Student Housing Business provides a detailed list of plans for a wide variety of colleges and universities.
  • Each college or university will list and explain all relevant and updated information on its website. Many universities are sending detailed updated emails and mailings to their school community as they struggle to determine the best ways to move forward.  
  • Registered students should be receiving direct mailings, emailings and information via their college portals.

Got questions or concerns about the college application process? College Essay Whiz is ready, willing and able to help you find your answers.

For more reading:
Reopening colleges during a pandemic is too dangerous – The Washington Post 
Several colleges plan to end in-person instruction by Thanksgiving – Inside Higher Ed 
What will college campuses look like in the fall of COVID-19? – Forbes
Will colleges in the new coronavirus epicenters change their fall plans? – Education Dive
Cornell is Coming Back to Campus This Fall. Are Other Ivies Doing the Same? – Cornell Sun 


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