Colleges determined to re-open, but prepping backup plans

'Seeing people walk around in masks is going to be a dramatic change'

Many colleges and universities committed to returning to in-person education with students in dorms and dining hall in fall 2020 are now putting coronavirus safety procedures in place to keep students and staff healthy.

Troy University in Alabama is building extensive flexibility into its reopening planning to allow students to switch between in-person classes and online learning, says Lance Tatum, senior vice chancellor of academic affairs and leader of Troy’s coronavirus task force.

“Seeing people walk around in masks is going to be a dramatic change to what we’re used to,” Tatum says. “We may have to bridge some anxiety by giving students more opportunities to work in online platforms rather than saying they have to be in class every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.”

The university is likely to adopt a five-semester model that its branch campuses have used for the last several years.

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That model give the university flexibility to move from online to in-person during a two-terms fall semester.

Administrators are now figuring out space requirements of smaller classes that allow students and instructors to maintain social distancing.

That will likely require hiring more faculty at a time when Troy, like colleges and universities across the country, will face financial shortfalls and enrollment declines, Tatum says.

The situation may also require administrators to ask upper-level and graduate faculty to teach lower-level survey courses, Tatum says.

As for campus life, Tatum’s task force is now figuring if the university can offer single rooms in dorms and if it can even use older residence halls that have communal bathrooms.

“The areas where people congregate, the rec center, the student activity center, all of that is going to be dramatically different,” Tatum says. “Where we used to see people out on the quad playing frisbee, all of that is going to change.

“It will look like we have fewer people on campus whether we do or not.”

Fall 2020 financial challenges

The University of Kentucky is preparing not a for a new normal, but for “reinvented normal operations,” says Eric Monday, executive vice president for finance and administration.

The University of Kentucky is in the midst of an extensive planning process to reopen campus to students now taking all their classes online.
The University of Kentucky is in the midst of an extensive planning process to reopen campus to students now taking all their classes online.

“We believe that students in residential, intensive learning have better outcomes and a better experience,” Monday says. “We know that even more now.”

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The university is now working to establish a coronavirus testing program that includes contract tracing and isolating anyone who falls ill.

The university has also established three separate administrative planning teams to brainstorm ideas for class sizes, dorms, dining and other areas of campus life.

The university will do all this with a $70 million budget shortfall, which is largely made up of a loss in investment income and drops in summer and fall enrollment, Monday says.

The university plans to continue to fund faculty promotions and student scholarships, Monday says.

But it has deferred capital projects, furloughed a number of employees, eliminated merit raises and reduced retirement benefits for one year.

UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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