As Schools Announce Reopening Plans, Many Students are Left in Limbo

This fall, college will be a bit different. After universities evacuated in the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, questions about fall semester were left in the air. While some states like New York and New Jersey have seen case numbers go down on a daily basis, many states continue to experience surges in positive cases. The United States now gets around 50,000 new cases a day, with hospitalizations also increasing. In recent days, universities began announcing their plans for the upcoming semester. For many students and faculty members, these plans have been unsatisfactory or insufficient. 

Harvard University announced its reopening plans on Monday, July 6. Only 40 percent of undergraduates will be allowed back on campus, with all first-years coming back in the fall and all seniors coming back in the spring, where first-year students will be expected to return to remote learning for the spring semester. However, even students living on campus will have all of their classes online.

“Without a vaccine or effective clinical treatments for the virus, we know that no choice that reopens the campus is without risk,” the University said in a statement. “We have worked closely with leading epidemiologists and medical experts to define an approach that we believe will protect the health and safety of our community, while also protecting our academic enterprise and providing students with the conditions they need to be successful academically.”

This comes as ICE has announced that international students whose universities are doing all-remote learning, or those who have all remote classes will have to leave the United States. Harvard’s President Larry Bascos claimed to be working to forge a path forward, but has not announced any changes to his plans. In this case, all of Harvard’s international students would not be allowed to be on campus in the fall. 

Students that are on-campus will have single bedrooms and shared bathrooms. There will be restrictions on who can enter other dormitories and non-residential buildings. Students who do not live on campus will not have to pay room and board, but tuition will remain at $50,000. Many have condemned Harvard for this decision, calling it completely financial-based. First-years are more likely to transfer than upperclassmen, so some speculate that is why they are prioritizing students that have never stayed on campus. 

Michael Miller, a political science professor at Barnard College of Columbia University claims that students’ demands for reduced tuition will come at the expense of their professors’ jobs. For universities like Harvard and Columbia, which have endowments of $40.9 billion and $10.9 billion respectively, the question of whether the University has money to spare does not seem very legitimate. 

Some students, however, look to be more concerned about the adjustment of the students expected to enter campus for the first time rather than the financial side of bringing first-years to campus. 

Other students claim that this will put first-years in a hard position as they will need to transition to college without any guidance from upperclassmen or opportunities to socialize. 

For students at Rutgers University, the “Returning to Rutgers” guide announced that only 35 percent of students will be allowed back on campus. All of those on campus will be required to wear face coverings and there will be frequent testing. Students will also experience a tuition freeze at all three of Rutgers’ campuses, which house over 70,000 students. 

Graduate courses will begin to resume, with the arts and engineering courses being the priority as they must be done in-person. 

Students quickly went online to complain about the University’s decision to continue with almost-all remote classes but not decrease tuition at all. Some students cited Rutgers’ high athletics funding, questioning why the university was okay with excessive spending on a failing football team, but is not willing to invest that money back into its students. 

But as students yearn to be back on campus, or at least be given a decreased tuition, faculty across the country seems skeptical about plans going forward. Faculty at the Georgia Institute of Technology, which plans to have classes in-person this fall, have published a letter urging the University to make some changes before classes begin in August. 800 of Georgia Tech’s 1100 faculty members signed onto the letter, which condemned the Georgia state university system for a reopening plan that does “not follow science-based evidence, increase(s) the health risks to faculty, students and staff, and interfere(s) with nimble decision-making necessary to prepare and respond to Covid-19 infection risk."

Faculty pointed out that the plan only encourages students to wear masks while the University will "aim to retain as much face-to-face interaction as possible.”

The university system mandates that Georgia Tech follow its plan, despite Georgia experiencing a surge in cases, averaging over 2,600 daily. A major tenet of the letter demands that Georgia Tech be given autonomy to determine how it should open outside the Georgia Board of Regents. 

If COVID-19 cases continue to rise dramatically in some states, Universities might be forced to shutter their doors once again. The University of Southern California already reversed its reopening plan due to increasing numbers in California, however, this back and forth can take a toll on students and faculty, leaving many stuck in a position where they are unable to trust what their University says and being unable to generate concrete plans for college in the coming weeks.