Colleges and Universities Start Making Their Fall 2020 Plans!

Dear Commons Community,

A major question most colleges and universities are facing is how to offer their academic programs in Fall 2020 in light of the coronavirus.  Practically all of higher education has moved to remote learning operations and will likely do so through this summer.  However, the fall is in question and most colleges and universities have not made a decision yet.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article this morning that presents the thinking of several college administrations.  Of course, the final decision will likely rest with the condition of the different sections of the country in their fight with the coronavirus pandemic. Below is the entire article.


NOTE:  After I made this posting, my colleague, Fred Lane alerted me to Beloit College’s “modular strategy” for conducting its Fall 2020 semester.  See:


The Chronicle of Higher Education

2 Campuses Give Early Answers to Higher Ed’s Biggest Question: What Happens This Fall?

By Lindsay Ellis

April 21, 2020

Few college leaders have taken on the most pressing question many campuses face: whether Covid-19 will prohibit them from resuming normal operations in the fall. But early this week, two institutions announced their intentions — and they differed markedly.

Pamella Oliver, provost of California State University at Fullerton, said on Monday that the university planned to start the fall semester online and, should governmental and health authorities allow, gradually move back to on-campus operations. 

As colleges and universities have struggled to devise policies to respond to the quickly evolving situation, here are links to The Chronicle’s key coverage of how this worldwide health crisis is affecting campuses.

On Tuesday, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., president of Purdue University, said that his university intended to bring students back to campus in August. He wrote in an email that Purdue was “determined not to surrender helplessly” to the difficulties of the virus.

Shutting down campus, he wrote, “has come at extraordinary costs, as much human as economic, and at some point, clearly before next fall, those will begin to vastly outweigh the benefits of its continuance.”

Universities have largely been mum about what to expect when August rolls around. Increasingly, however, constituents are seeking answers. The stakes are high. Students wonder whether to pay high-dollar tuition for online courses. Faculty members wonder when they can return to their labs and when their tenure clocks will resume. Troves of furloughed staff members wonder when their next paycheck will hit. And in-person operations depend on revenue streams — like room-and-board fees, auxiliary expenses like ticket sales, and money from contracting out campus space for outside events — that can’t exist virtually.

A Purdue spokesman did not immediately respond to a Chronicle request for comment on why the campus decided to outline these policies now. Ellen Treanor, a spokeswoman for Fullerton, offered a simple rationale: Everyone was asking. Neither statement promised that its stated plan would be final. Treanor told The Chronicle that a final decision was unlikely before the end of the spring semester.

Major unknowns are challenging colleges’ abilities to say definitively what will come in the fall. Fullerton and Purdue officials both nodded to some of these factors. Stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders may leave college leaders with no choice but to remain virtual. If the disease flares up once more, risk levels change. And the ability to test for the disease widely seems to be a key factor for universities considering returns to campus.

That was the case for Daniels’s preliminary plan, which appears to rely on the capacity for aggressive testing and contact tracing, as well as near-complete knowledge of the health of Purdue’s over 40,000 students. (He said in his message that the examples he stated would most likely be replaced with “better ideas” as they are vetted.)

Pretesting of students and staff before they come to campus could help Purdue know “as much as possible” about the health of the community, and the university could also pursue a “robust” testing system using its own labs to keep that information current. Those showing symptoms will be quarantined in reserved space, and Daniels wrote that the university expects it could trace the contacts of those who test positive.

This strategy, he wrote, could be coupled with other extensive measures, like minimizing contact between those under 35 — with potentially lower risk of death from the virus — and those who are older. Some staff may be required to work remotely, and classes could be spread out or, in some cases, moved online. Other new policies could include a prohibition of large events, limitations on travel, and required face coverings.

“Whatever its eventual components, a return-to-operations strategy is undergirded by a fundamental conviction that even a phenomenon as menacing as Covid-19 is one of the inevitable risks of life,” Daniels wrote. “It is unclear what course other schools will choose, but Purdue will employ every measure we can adopt or devise to manage this challenge with maximum safety for every member of the Boilermaker family, while proceeding with the noble and essential mission for which our institution stands.”

Douglas Shackelford, dean of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s business school, said on Tuesday that the decision to reopen campuses must be made slowly and cautiously. Unlike Main Street, he said on a call with reporters, campuses are dense and bring together vulnerable populations. He wondered if students would come back, even if they had the opportunity, and if a residential campus could operate before the existence of a vaccine.

The costs to remaining closed, however, are steep. Already, universities have furloughed hundreds of employees and announced revenue hits of more than $100 million. Small campuses “may never recover from the financial challenges of Covid-19,” he said.

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