Paul L. Caron

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Impact Of COVID-19 On The 2020-21 Academic Calendar

Chronicle of Higher Education, The Next Casualty of the Coronavirus Crisis May Be the Academic Calendar:

Coronavirus[A Beloit College committee proposed] a later start date and two seven-week modules instead of a full semester. That way, if the college needed to move everyone online either early or late in the fall, it could do so with fewer disruptions. The deal was ratified and publicly rolled out within two weeks, giving Beloit a leg up at a time when families are struggling to make sense of what the next academic year will look like.

Beloit is one of the first colleges to lay out a new course schedule for the fall, but every institution will face the same quandary. Even if the coronavirus wanes over the summer, public-health officials say, it is likely to resurface once large groups of people — say, students in lecture halls or dormitories — begin to congregate. The solutions will depend on whether a campus is large or small, residential or commuter, mainly undergraduate or with extensive graduate programs. But all are weighing a collection of options and interlocking scenarios, each of which will force a reconsideration of bedrock assumptions about the academic calendar, and of the shape and trajectory of college life.

Should colleges split the semester into smaller parts, as Beloit did? Keep dormitories shuttered in the fall and put courses entirely online? Create hybrids so that students come to campus less frequently and convene in smaller groups? Delay the start of the semester to allow some international students to return or the virus to die down? Push the start of the fall semester to the spring of 2021? Offer fewer courses, to create a more nimble teaching environment, or explore partnerships with other institutions?

Whatever happens, it looks increasingly unlikely that the fall semester will assume traditional form. A recent survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers found that more than half of colleges are considering remaining fully online or are considering cutting the number of in-person courses in the fall. And 65 percent are considering increasing the number of online or remote courses (some have already made those changes).

Inside Higher Ed, How to Responsibly Reopen Colleges in the Fall:

What should higher education do in the fall? COVID-19 will still be with us — so should colleges stay shuttered?

Continuing with virtual learning threatens the entire concept of the college experience. Higher education, like K-12, depends on proximity to real people, not squares on a screen. Educators at all levels have dedicated themselves to teaching students during the pandemic, but they know that they’re offering thin pedagogical gruel.

The main reason why the “distance learning revolution” didn’t replace the traditional model is that online learning just isn’t as good. And because of that, it can’t be offered at full price.

Rather than return for another term of online courses, many students will choose to wait until they can attend in person. Because most U.S. colleges and universities are tuition-driven, the resulting enrollment shortfall will pose an existential threat to many of them. Some will not survive. Those losses in turn will have a ripple effect: without their host institutions, the economies of some college towns will go on life support. ...

Yet reopening colleges without restriction — partying as if it were 2019 — seems irresponsible unless vaccines or treatments become available far more quickly than we’re likely to get them.

So we should think about the concept of herd immunity, a state when enough of us have acquired at least transient immunity to the virus — by prior illness or vaccination — to prevent its unchecked spread. When a population achieves herd immunity, the virus can’t sustain itself because it doesn’t have enough hosts to jump to. ...

[C]olleges and universities (as well as K-12 schools) may provide a safer way to move toward herd immunity. In fact, if higher education institutions reopen in the fall, it may be the best option for both themselves and public health.

Here’s why: although some college-age people who get COVID-19 become very sick, the overwhelming proportion do not. Many of them will contract the virus even if they stay home from school. Thus, the biggest risks that attend reopening colleges are not to the students themselves.

Chronicle of Higher Education, How College Leaders Are Planning for the Fall:

The Covid-19 pandemic overwhelmed American higher education as easily as it did the public-health system. Colleges belied their reputation as glacial plodders by moving instruction online within weeks, even days, salvaging the semester. But the virus shows few signs of abating. Summer looms. And beyond it, fall, a season with deep ritual significance and critical financial ramifications for academe.

An almost instinctive pivot saved the spring. Now college leaders face making plans for a near future defined by unknowns.

How do you decide if it will be safe to bring students back to campus for the fall when there’s no reliable prediction of what course the disease will take? Wait too long for clarity to emerge, and you’re scrambling. Act too soon, and you might miss the chance — albeit perhaps a slim one — for an ordinary move-in day. What happens if the virus is contained this summer, then roars back in the fall?

And here, in the midst of budget season, how do you plan for next year with no reliable predictor of how many students will show up, on campus or online? After years of declining enrollments and ebbing tuition revenues, colleges face levels of financial unpredictability not seen since the Great Recession.

The stability, or continued existence, of some institutions may hang in the balance.

Many college leaders are trying to focus on the future while already reeling from heavy financial tolls. The University of Wisconsin system, for example, has estimated it will lose $170 million in the spring semester alone from refunding room, dining, and parking fees to students, and other unexpected expenses. Plunging financial markets cast a pall on the longer-term financial outlook for other institutions as well. Bucknell University’s endowment, worth $867 million in 2019, lost about $150 million of its value, or 17 percent.

The approaches colleges are taking to plan ahead vary as widely as the institutions themselves. Some are already working toward online learning for the fall semester, or an altered schedule, or some combination of the two. Some have already run financial projections that account for drops in enrollment or state support, and their accompanying levels of budget cuts. Some are prepared to go online for the entire 2020-21 academic year, if need be.

Others are still playing it by ear, inching toward decisions as days tick by. Meanwhile, the stakes continue to rise.

Wall Street Journal, The Big Question for Colleges: Will There Be a Fall Semester on Campus?:

Colleges across the country are trying to decide whether they can reopen campus for the fall, and how long they can put off a final decision.

Schools are mapping out different scenarios, depending on the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic in the fall. Boston University, for example, has said that if the virus is still raging, it may not return to face-to-face instruction until January 2021. Another scenario projects some students on campus in the fall, and others taking classes remotely. ...

College campuses almost couldn’t be set up much worse for the coronavirus. They are built on the idea of lots of people living and learning in close quarters and gathering in large groups—all measures that work against any social distancing needed to fight the spread of the pandemic. ...

The transition to remote learning has been jarring. Schools moved hundreds of thousands of courses online in a matter of weeks. The results are uneven. Students have filed class-action suits against at least two schools for failing to reimburse them for tuition, fees, and room and board.

When and if students do arrive at school this fall, classrooms, quads and cafeterias are likely to look and feel different. States may continue to limit the size of gatherings, which would dictate maximums for how many students can be in a lecture hall or dining room. Students could sit in classrooms separated by three or four seats. Older professors, more vulnerable to the coronavirus, may teach remotely.

Whatever colleges decide has big financial consequences. Some incoming freshmen, for example, could defer enrollment for a year if a school is offering remote learning only. That results in a big tuition loss and makes it hard to gauge class sizes. Schools could also lose room and board fees if some students are remote.

For complete TaxProf Blog coverage of the coronavirus, see here.

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Even academia will be forced to become part of the Great Pivot. About time.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Apr 23, 2020 6:31:44 AM