Coronavirus: Florida orders state universities online

Universities and other organizations are beginning to provide forums to share ideas and other campus-closure resources
By: | March 11, 2020
Coronarvirus-related closures are emptying U.S. campuses as many schools move to online education. (Photo: Ryan Jacobson/Unsplash)Coronarvirus-related closures are emptying U.S. campuses as many schools move to online education. (Photo: Ryan Jacobson/Unsplash)

Coronavirus concerns have moved colleges and universities into the age of near-total online higher education sooner than many campus leaders had likely expected.

The State University System of Florida on Wednesday ordered all of its 12 institutions to plan a transition to online education.

“State universities with students who have returned from spring break should implement a process to transition to remote instruction immediately and encourage students to return home for at least two weeks,” the system said in a statement.

Administrators at universities on spring break should tell students not to return to campus until at least two weeks after the end of vacation.

“All universities will continue to provide essential services, such as dining, counseling, health services, library services, etc., potentially on a limited basis or remotely,” the system’s statement said. “While students are encouraged to remain off-campus, each university should develop a plan for providing residential accommodations for students who need assistance or must remain in place.”

COVID-19 closures spreading quickly

At least 130 colleges and universities had canceled in-person classes as of Wednesday, according to a count by Forbes. A crowdsourced Google spreadsheet listed a similar number of closures.

Some schools kept campuses and residence halls open while others, such as Harvard University, asked all students to return home for spring break and stay there while working online—until further notice.

Berea College in Kentucky is in the process this week of shutting down for the rest of the year.


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Amidst all the closures, some campus groups urged university leaders to consider students who didn’t have ready access to online education or who relied on residence halls for housing.

Harvard Primus, an organization for first-generation college students, issued a statement reminding Harvard University leaders of the financial concerns some students are facing because of the closures—including unexpected flight home and disruptions in employment.

“While many students can handle unexpected costs, this sudden change in housing highlights the large disparity within our student population concerning students’ access to disposable wealth and the resources necessary to evacuate and move off-campus,” the group said.

Colleges that haven’t closed or canceled classes also faced some pushback Wednesday. An online petition, which had gained more than 47,000 signatures by mid-afternoon Wednesday, urged CUNY to move classes online.

Coping with coronavirus closures

Kansas State University Global Campus has created a free online community, Keep Teaching: Resources for Higher Ed, where college educators can share ideas and resources for providing academic continuity at their institutions.

“We want this community to be a place where professionals from all over the country, and internationally, come together as peers to have purposeful conversations and share valuable information,” Katie Linder, executive director for program development at Global Campus, said in a statement. “Our goal is to create stronger relationships between colleagues and help stakeholders make well-informed decisions about all things related to academic continuity.”

The community is designed for faculty members, librarians, student support professionals, disability service professionals, educational developers and other support staff.


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Some higher education firms are already looking at some of the long-term impacts of coronavirus.

College and university leaders may begin feeling financial strain as their schools fall short of international student enrollment targets, according to a blog by EAB, an educational services company.

In an IIE survey, 76% of institutions reported that outreach or recruiting events in China had been affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Some schools adjusted by offering webinars and online language tests.

Philanthropists worried about volatile markets may be less willing to make donations while advancement staff may have to cancel trips as institutions restrict travel, EAB also warned.

Conference cancellations mount

Higher education organizations have also begun canceling their annual conferences due to coronavirus.

The American Council on Education canceled its 102nd annual meeting, which had been set for San Diego this weekend.  The organization invited higher education professionals to join its coronavirus discussion group.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities canceled  2020 Conference on Diversity, Equity, and Student Success, which had been scheduled for March 19-21 in New Orleans.

The organization intends to present selected keynote sessions and conference workshops virtually.

 


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