US/World

COVID-19 and Higher Ed: An Update

This story is an update of the original version which ran on Aug. 21. 

Universities are damned if they do, and obviously damned if they don't. 

Open, that is. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on Aug. 22 of the plans of about 3,000 institutions regarding whether they would offer online classes, in-person classes, or some type of hybrid. One-quarter were mostly or fully in person; 33% were mostly or fully online. As of Aug. 22,  24% of the schools had yet to decide what they were doing.

But, students have still been allowed to return to campus, and some are doing what students do. While dorms have had to be rethought and classrooms redesigned, what needed to change, and hasn't,  experts say, are the social aspects of college life. The New York Times has tracked at least 251 cases of COVID-19 back to activities at fraternities and sororities.

 At the University of Notre Dame, for example, 448 people have tested positive out of 3,222 total tests since testing started Aug. 3. Classes have been moved online for two weeks.

One school still on the fence as of this writing as to where to hold class is Dickinson State, in Stark County, North Dakota.  And for good reason. The county where the small (1392 students) college sits recorded 424.3 new cases per 100,000 people in the second week of August. In contrast, Snow College, in Sanpete County, Utah, will have its 5500 or so students appear in person: Sanpete recorded 30.6 new cases per 100,000 residents in the same time period.

Schools are figuring out their financial futures. The Pennsylvania State University system is planning to revert to years-old, higher teacher-to-student ratios; teacher layoffs are the probable outcome. In New Mexico's state university system, leadership will be consolidated so three schools will become branch campuses. In Texas, the layoffs and furloughs started in June within the state's two higher ed systems. 

 What primarily keeps public institutions in the black are student spending and state government funding. It does not appear as if 2021 will be dressed in black.  A survey of higher education leadership revealed that 84% of those interviewed believed enrollment would drop this fall, and a Standard and Poor's Global Ratings on not-for-profit schools estimated that more than half the states have already lowered what they would provide schools for next year by between 5 and 30%. 

 

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