David R. Parker, Ph.D.
As society begins to re-open following the unprecedented COVID-19 quarantine, we are all carefully monitoring spikes in new cases and wondering how a “second wave” might affect our daily lives in the weeks and months ahead. College campuses are developing multiple contingency plans for Fall 2020 as the world continues to learn more about the coronavirus. Where does this leave postsecondary students and their families as they finalize plans for the coming academic year? Here is a comprehensive summary of recent plans announced by Indiana institutions of higher education.
Many campuses are reporting a spike in requests for single dorm rooms. This option can enhance social distancing while allowing students to live on campus. The availability of enough rooms to accommodate these requests is being fueled by a high number of students who do not plan to return to campus in the coming year. Many schools are also planning to offer a balance of in-person and online classes, often with a relatively small cap on the enrollment size of classes that will be allowed to meet in person. Some campuses are changing the academic calendar to eliminate Fall and Spring break in 2020-2021. Like businesses that are re-opening this summer, most colleges and universities will have new safeguards in place to encourage hand-washing, voluntary use of face masks, and other “new norm” practices that eschew handshaking and greater physical spacing between individuals.
For many, the university experience is highly enriched by a school’s athletics program. The NCAA allowed a re-opening for fall sports activities on June 1st. However, many restrictions to facilities’ access and the manner in which athletes are allowed to participate will be in place. The U.S. has faced complex decisions about balancing public safety with economic prosperity (or survival) during the quarantine. Colleges and universities are facing similar decisions given the massive amounts of revenue that are generated from college sports programming.
For college students with disabilities, other factors are important to consider. Disability Services offices reported a spike in requests for accommodations once Spring 2020 classes suddenly went online. For many, the need to access captioned text and to coordinate the provision of “remote” testing accommodations took on new urgency. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing are anticipating additional barriers this fall when face masks make lip reading impossible. Campuses are working quickly to find alternative face masks with clear fronts to minimize this problem. Students with health conditions that increase immunodeficiencies are also expressing concerns about returning to campus. The recent trend embraced by a growing number of incoming freshmen with and without disabilities – taking a Gap Year – has become even more popular as families weigh the benefits of starting college on time with ongoing concerns about infection risks and increased anxiety this fall. Students and parents can be assured that higher education professionals, including those who work with students with disabilities, have been working extremely hard to find creative ways to provide high quality services as campuses plan their re-openings. They understand that thriving in college entails meaningful experiences in and out of the classroom. More than ever, they are working nimbly to ensure that new approaches are effective, safe, and welcoming.