HARTFORD, Conn — The school re-opening debate is a dilemma in the literal sense because none of the options seem like perfect options. They all carry some level of risk or consequence. Many institutions are stressing flexibility, because the best decision today may not be the best decision a month from now if COVID-19 infection levels go way up or down in an area.
“When we started the planning process, we said flexibility should be rule number one,” said Dr. Pranesh Ashwath from the University of Texas at Arlington.
Texas may just now be passing its peak of cases and hospitalizations, and UT-Arlington is on track to open August 26th. The school is preparing for a hybrid of in-person and on-line classes, with classrooms spaced out at a third of capacity and a requirement that students wear masks. There will also be frequent testing and an isolation dorm.
“So if a student is exposed or showing symptoms, we are able to do the testing on campus and given them results right away,” Dr. Ashwath said.
Here in the northeast, where COVID activity is relatively minimal, Boston University is taking many of the same precautions and is giving students the choice to attend classes in-person or remotely.
"We've made an investment in technology to, to provide that capability in classrooms that didn't previously have it," said Dr. Jean Morrison, the provost of Boston University.
It’s coming at a huge cost, however. The University is facing a $264-million dollar revenue shortfall, and is now planning layoffs. On top of that, some students who are being forced to learn on-line are saying they’re not getting their money’s worth. Harvard chose to go all-online for the upcoming semester, and one junior said it may not be worth it.
“I'm considering taking the fall semester off because after experiencing the virtual spring, I really feel like I missed out on a very important aspect of the Harvard education, which is the Harvard experience," said Mary Duvnjak, a Harvard junior.
Princeton is offering students a ten percent discount for online classes.
For an overall picture on what’s happening, The Chronicle for Higher Education looked at over 1200 colleges and universities, and found just over half are planning to have students back on campus, while a third of them are planning hybrid model, and about ten percent are slated to go fully on-line.