The annual return to college campus for millions of students is less than a month away, yet coronavirus cases are spiking around the country, leaving young people and their families anxious for reassurance of safety from their respective schools.
Many public school districts have already made the decision to move to fully online instruction, such as Los Angeles and San Diego. Harvard, California State University and The New School are among a growing list of colleges and universities that will not conduct any in-person classes this fall.
Fordham University’s reopening plan promises a return to campus while also providing options for students to stay fully online or create a hybrid schedule, including both online and in-person courses.
Katie Heaton, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’23, plans to move back to midtown Manhattan but will not be living in Fordham’s residential housing.
“Fordham’s plan, while seemingly optimistic for students returning to campus like myself, felt like it left gaps for those going fully online or those who are immuno-compromised,” Heaton said.
Anna Helldorfer, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’23, is one student who made the decision to live at home and complete the fall semester remotely.
“Fordham’s plan, while seemingly optimistic for students returning to campus like myself, felt like it left gaps for those going fully online or those who are immuno-compromised.” Katie Heaton, FCLC ’23
“Personally, I don’t feel that going back to the city just to enjoy myself is worth putting myself and others at risk,” Helldorfer said. “I’m lucky enough to be well suited for online learning and I have a pretty good home life, so I’d prefer not to contribute to the possible spread of COVID(-19).”
According to Helldorfer, she is glad that Fordham gave her the option to go completely online, but she wishes that they’d made announcements earlier so that she could feel more secure in her decisions.
Lack of communication is just one concern felt by students around the country with the unpredictability of the coronavirus. Now, Fordham students are facing similar challenges to other college students concerning tuition cost, social distancing within residential housing, online versus in-person class offerings and academic calendars.
University of Portland
The University of Portland (UP) is returning to in-person instruction, but with a social distanced campus, including daily COVID-19 symptom questionnaires, a mask requirement and closed common spaces and facilities.
Fordham is also de-densifying campus and plans on conducting monthly surveillance and daily monitoring of symptoms in both students and employees.
“I know these are unprecedented times, but I wish we had more support and guidance on what the fall will look like. Personally, I’m opting into taking my classes online, but I still am worried about my friends taking in-person classes.” Catherine Cieminski, UP ’22
“I know my school is doing their best to figure everything out, however, there has been a huge lack in communication and clarity on what campus will really look like,” Catherine Cieminski, UP ’22, said.
According to Cieminski, the university has not specified what will happen if there are on-campus cases, there has been a lack of available work-study positions and their online option is not flexible — especially for STEM students who need lab access.
“I know these are unprecedented times, but I wish we had more support and guidance on what the fall will look like. Personally, I’m opting into taking my classes online, but I still am worried about my friends taking in-person classes,” Cieminski said. “Our school has a very small health center and it’s pretty difficult to get an appointment, so I am wondering about their ability to take on COVID(-19) testing and maintain mental health and personal health appointments and availability.”
Although small, the University Health Services (UHS) at Lincoln Center continued to serve students via email and phone even during quarantine. According to an email sent out by McShane on July 21, UHS will be stocked with supplies, testing materials and Personal Protective Equipment.
University of California, Santa Barbara
The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) updated their fall planning on June 18 as California cases began to rise. Now, the state has over 450,000 cases.
The university will be converting their lecture-style classes — with class sizes of 500 or more students — to asynchronous, so students who will not be in the California time zone have flexibility in viewing or attending instruction.
The revision to classes comes after this past spring semester. Fordham students had similar problems connecting to Zoom class calls when living in different time zones around the world.
“I wish that they just would have made it a lot more clear about which classes are going to be in-person.” Isabella Binger, UCSB ’22
According to Isabella Binger, UCSB ’22, chemistry and biology labs, dance classes, and other necessary in-person instruction will happen in smaller sections.
In comparison, the theatre department at Fordham has moved non-academic work, such as studio and main stage shows online for the entire year. Heaton, a theatre major, is moving back to be able to engage in the community in other ways: “Knowing that being on campus even though the majority of my education could be online still leaves a network of artistic people who are looking to make safe and independent work on campus,” Heaton said.
Binger cited communication as a frustration at UCSB: “I wish that they just would have made it a lot more clear about which classes are going to be in-person so if you do have an immune disorder or if you have something where you are more at risk, you could take the classes that are online specifically.”
University of Iowa
The University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, is doing the same as Fordham by keeping their regular academic calendar and moving to all online classes in the period between Thanksgiving and winter break.
According to Elisabeth Oster, University of Iowa ’23, any class with more than 50 students will be an online-only class, while smaller classes will be in-person unless the professor chooses otherwise. Two of her six classes will be in-person. In comparison, Fordham’s average class size is 23 students with the larger classes being core curricula like philosophy or theology.
“It would be a lot less stressful and mentally healthy for me to live alone during the pandemic.” Elisabeth Oster, University of Iowa ’23
“I feel that in order to overcome where we’re at with COVID-19 in-person schooling is inadvisable and is only in-place for the collegiate financial structure. The very real possibility that we might shift back to college life only for it to go seriously wrong soon after creates a lot of unwanted uncertainty. On the other hand, both my parents are older than 55 and are immunocompromised, it would be a lot less stressful and mentally healthy for me to live alone during the pandemic,” Oster said.
Oster said she appreciated the virtual panels and town halls that the university conducted in the past months, maintaining strong communication. They also are providing students with a face shield, two cloth masks and two disposable masks since Iowa City has a mask mandate. McShane is hosting a virtual town hall on July 30 covering the fall semester; however, it is the first of its kind for the university.
Unlike Fordham, some schools are scrapping their traditional academic calendar and imposing a new schedule. Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, will institute four separate four-week terms for the fall semester, where students take two courses per term. The block schedule is meant to limit the number of students who come into contact in class, provide an eased schedule for those who opt for remote instruction and prepare for any necessary “quick switching” to all remote learning.
“I enjoy learning and being in a classroom and online classes don’t have the same effect.” Ella Semonian, Lynn ’23
According to Ella Semonian, Lynn ’23, housing will be limited to a maximum of two roommates and there will be no off-campus entry. “I do hope that we can stay open rather than campus shutting down because the online school that everyone went through this past semester was pretty rough. I enjoy learning and being in a classroom and online classes don’t have the same effect,” she said.
Similarly, Fordham issued strict housing guidelines, including limits to guest access and de-densifying dorm rooms and common spaces.
Florida has seen an extreme rise in cases during the month of July, surpassing 400,000 reported cases. “I appreciate how they aren’t being ditzy like the rest of Florida. There isn’t much that I feel they could have done a better job with, to be honest,” Semonian said.
Like Lynn, Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, completely rehauled their class schedules and will begin the fall semester in September with only freshmen on campus attending one course while upperclassmen complete one course online. Then, in October, all students will be enrolled in two courses until Thanksgiving break. The plan is to conduct the second half of the first semester on campus in December and January and return to a normal spring semester.
“As someone with an autoimmune disorder, I have been very anxious while waiting for Luther’s plan to be released.” Maddie Lomprey, Luther College ’21
“Personally, I am very excited about the plan,” Maddie Lomprey, Luther College ’21, said. “As someone with an autoimmune disorder, I have been very anxious while waiting for Luther’s plan to be released. I appreciate that we will get some time on campus for sure, with these measures in place.”
Luther students will not have to sign a code of conduct contract, which Lomprey said she is concerned about, given that many places in Iowa are open without mask mandates. “I want to trust that Luther students will protect one another as best they can, but I think without them signing a contract to do so, there is room for failure.”
Fordham, on the other hand, announced that students will have to sign the Ram Pledge before arriving on campus; the contract binds students to wearing a face mask while on campus, engaging in proper hygiene, following testing guidelines and monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms.
Loyola University Chicago
Loyola University Chicago (LUC) will be fully online except for labs, following the same academic calendar without a fall break. “I personally don’t mind doing online as I am more of a visual learner,” Maggie Gathumbi, LUC ’22, said. “What upsets me is the lack of financial consideration from the school. Many students would want the tuition to at least stay the same from last year but they have increased the tuition which I believe is inconsiderate. However, most campus facilities are still open, which I do appreciate.”
“What upsets me is the lack of financial consideration from the school.” Maggie Gathumbi, LUC ’22
Fordham also increased tuition by 3.33% for the 2020-21 academic year, even though students had concerns about financial distress and a change in educational value. Late fees were temporarily suspended, and the university now offers a tuition insurance plan, but there are still calls to halt tuition increase, following other schools.
Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, is also cutting fall break and Labor Day to minimize travel in and out of campus. All on-campus instruction will also end before Thanksgiving break, including online and hybrid courses.
“I feel okay about going back but nervous because it’s in a different part of the country that hasn’t been as careful,” Eleanor Chapman, Samford ’21, said. “I am glad they are requiring masks and that we have to be tested prior to school and I also think it’s good that not all of our classes will be in-person.”
“I feel okay about going back but nervous because it’s in a different part of the country that hasn’t been as careful.” Eleanor Chapman, Samford ’21
Fordham is also requiring testing prior to arriving on campus, although there is an option to administer your COVID-19 test at either Lincoln Center or Rose Hill.
Chapman also said that she wished the university would have given the option of not returning to campus for those who do not feel comfortable.
Northwestern University (NU) in Evanston, Illinois, is offering a mix of online, hybrid and in-person classes this fall, similar to Fordham. The university did confirm that they will return to normal letter grading this fall after instituting a mandatory pass/no pass system this past spring. Although Fordham’s pass/fail policy this past spring was optional, there has been no word of a return of that option for the fall.
Elizabeth Paige, NU ’23, said she is excited to return to campus and feels safe doing so, but she wishes she knew more about which of her classes will be online, as they have not registered yet. Unless Fordham students have been contacted by professors individually, there has also been no communication about what classes will be available in-person or online only.
Montana State University
Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman, Montana, will be conducting its fall semester in person with the requirement of face masks as well as classroom social distancing. Charlie Higgins, MSU ’23, said he was skeptical about the university’s plans and worried about his professors’ health.
“I believe that I am not going to get the full education I paid for.” Charlie Higgins, MSU ’23
“I think we are eventually going to do online classes once cases start rising again, so I believe that I am not going to get the full education I paid for,” Higgins said.
MSU, like many universities, shifted their academic calendar to begin two weeks earlier in August, ending the fall semester at Thanksgiving break to reduce student travel on and off campus.
The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (UMN) is also offering many different class formats, though it is up to the professor’s judgment. Sabrina Finn, UMN ’23, will be taking all of her classes online this fall.
“I wish they could be in-person because that is what seems like a ‘normal’ college experience.” Sabrina Finn, UMN ’23
“I wish they could be in-person because that is what seems like a ‘normal’ college experience, but you will not see me complaining because I know that this is necessary to keep me, my peers, my professors, all other staff, and even my family safer,” Finn said.
As students across the country adjust to a new normal in college life, whether opting to return to campus to take in-person or online classes, or staying home, students unanimously said safety is a priority.
“The lack of information that Fordham has provided thus far about on-campus life makes me nervous, so living at home gives me the ability to control my own environment,” Helldorfer said. “For me, campus life is mostly based around the friends that I’ve made and because most of them share my opinions, we’ve made plans to stay together outside of the city.”