Colleges and universities across the country are committed to fully reopening in the fall. Some administrators fear students will not return to campus if normality, or an appearance of it, is not restored by September.
Schools from large government to small private institutions have announced plans to bring students back to dormitories, appoint professors to teach most (if not all) classes in person, and resume extracurricular activities, in stark contrast to the final school year of largely virtual courses and limited social contact. The announcements of these changes coincide with the sending of letters of admission to the Class of 2025.
Some schools have suffered a financial blow because admission was postponed or room and board costs were lost.
Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, with 5,600 undergraduate and graduate students, announced earlier this month that it would be returning to “traditional residential education” this fall with in-person courses and on-campus activities.
Kansas State University announced on Wednesday that it too is planning a “more normal” fall semester with largely personal courses, events and activities. The state of Ohio announced Thursday that it plans to offer “robust” personal activities and classes to allow students to live in dormitories and fans to attend soccer games.
Katherine Fleming, the Provost of New York University, told colleagues in an email on Tuesday that “all faculties should teach their classes in person in the classroom in the fall of 2021”. However, she acknowledged that this would depend in part on whether enough professors had been vaccinated by then.
In fact, most school officials said that whether they can keep those promises depends on factors such as the suppression of the virus, the availability of the vaccine – which is still scarce, even for eligible individuals – and guidance from government authorities .
Despite hopes of the fall, schools are struggling to keep the virus at bay. Positivity rates rose among college students as well as the general population on vacation when people were traveling. Administrators have issued many stern warnings that small groups and gatherings were a source of infection. However, many have found that the classroom itself has not been proven to be a vector of infection as long as students and teachers follow safety guidelines such as wearing masks and social distancing.
More than 120,000 coronavirus cases have been linked to American colleges and universities since January 1, and more than 530,000 cases have been reported since the pandemic began, according to a survey by the New York Times. The Times has recorded more than 100 deaths, but the vast majority were staff members, not students.