The fall term has been on the minds of nearly everyone in higher education for months now. As some colleges around the country begin move-ins and online classes this week, the rubber will finally be meeting the road as far as plans and preparations. Some universities and colleges, faced with days or weeks until doors open, are reversing decisions to invite students to campus. Others are pushing full-steam ahead, sometimes with consequences.
Though new COVID-19 cases have declined in the United States nearly 19 percent in the last two weeks, new cases are still averaging at more than 50,000 per day. Nearly 1,000 people died of the coronavirus on Saturday alone. Nationally, 161,900 people have died, according to The New York Times.
At this point numerous colleges and universities have reversed their plans to bring some or all undergraduate students back to campus. These past few days added at least three to that total: Howard University, Mount Holyoke College, and Princeton University.
Those colleges had been preceded by a number of their geographic or market position peers, and some cited state-imposed quarantine requirements as one reason for keeping residence halls closed.
In the case of Howard University, three other private colleges in the District of Columbia -- Georgetown, George Washington and American Universities -- previously reversed plans to bring undergraduate students to campus. Howard also follows fellow HBCU's Spelman College, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University in its announcement.
"Nationally, we continue to see COVID-19 cases rise, with an increasing infection rate among young people. We have also grown more painfully aware of the disparate impact of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths among people of color, with particular devastation on the Black community," wrote President Wayne Frederick in his announcement. Frederick also noted that if campus reopened, 40 percent of Howard students would need to quarantine for two weeks on arrival to be in line with District of Columbia regulations.
Princeton's announcement makes it the strictest of the Ivy League universities, many of which are planning to bring students back to live on campus. The university's president, Christopher Eisgruber, said in his announcement that while restrictions on travel and commerce made by the state of New Jersey were necessary and justified, they have prevented the university from moving forward with its reopening plan. Along with other restrictions on gatherings, the state has required anyone traveling from 34 other states to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. The College of New Jersey, a public institution in the state, cited similar reasons for its decision to keep instruction online.
Joining those colleges in playing it safe, the Mid-American Conference announced Saturday that it would be postponing its entire fall season this year, affecting 2,500 athletes in various fall sports. The decision makes MAC so far the only Football Bowl Subdivision league (meaning in NCAA’s top football tier) to not hold games this season. Soccer, cross-country, field hockey and women’s volleyball will also be affected. A statement from the conference left open the possibility that athletes in fall sports would have a chance to compete in spring 2021.
Division II and Division III fall championships for football have already been canceled.
And yet in some places, the parade marches on.
Iowa State University moved undergraduate students into residence halls last week, beginning August 3. The process will be spread over two weeks. With over 3,000 residential students having now undergone COVID diagnostic tests, the college announced that 2.2 percent, or 66 students, tested positive.
About 120 students moved into Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus this weekend. The process there will be spread over six days.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, along with several colleges in the University System of Georgia, are set to begin in-person classes on Monday.
For colleges in California that are hoping to reopen in-person, the state has put out its own guidance on what measures need to be in place to do so. Prioritizing single-room housing, switching dining halls to grab-and-go and disposables, limiting social events and increasing cleaning are some of the recommended procedures, though the guidance says reopening will also depend on local conditions. Intercollegiate athletics can only begin (without fans) if the college can provide diagnostic testing and results in a 72-hour period in advance of competition in high contact-risk sports.
The University of Louisville dismissed three men's soccer players from its team for organizing a party, the college's athletics department announced Thursday. The three students each had prior team violations. At least 29 athletes in four sports at Louisville have tested positive for COVID-19, with others suspected of contact and in quarantine. Voluntary activities and preseason workouts for four sports have been temporarily shut down.
In other news, fans of Pennsylvania State University's football team are not happy about how the college has handled refunds for its fall season, PennLive reports. The university announced it would be playing football this upcoming term, but with no fans in attendance.
Season ticket holders can have their ticket payments either converted into a charity donation to the Levi Lamb Fund (which provides scholarship and medical treatment to Penn State's athletes), rolled over into 2021, or refunded. But seat contributions, additional fees fans pay for the ability to buy a season ticket, will not be refunded or rolled over, they can only be converted into a Levi Lamb Fund donation. Seat contributions range from $100 to $2,000 per seat. The University of Michigan previously announced that both seat contributions and ticket payments for its football season could be refunded or rolled over.