Covid-19 and College

Covid-19 and College

See what different Universities in the greater Boston area are doing to deal with Covid-19

  • Posted on: 17 August 2020
  • By: jcreason

The greater Boston area is unlike any other place in the world when it comes to higher education. During any usual late August and early September, over a hundred thousand college students migrate to attend dozens of colleges in Boston and in its surrounding communities like Cambridge. However this annual phenomenon takes on new meaning and raises the stakes within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Colleges and Universities across the country are already in a hard press to come up with solutions for dealing with online courses, staff safety, student living conditions, opening campuses or even whether to have the semester at all. The fact that every school is different with regards to population and campus, means that every school needs to develop their own solutions. This variety of strategies can be seen on full display throughout the Commonwealth, but especially so in and around Cambridge. Covid-19 has disrupted countless facets of our society but perhaps has had no greater effect than in the areas of heavily urbanized living and higher education. No other place exists at a more prominent intersection of these two major spheres like the greater Boston area, and it will have to adapt accordingly.

I attend Emerson College, situated downtown around the edges of the Boston common. Being in the incredibly dense and heavily trafficked city center, the college is confronted with some extreme adversity in regards to the pandemic. The campus consists of skyscrapers, narrow hallways and tight elevator shafts. Emerson has a manageable size for it’s student population, but something the school administration has to consider is the fact that the population of people who live and work downtown will be moving in and out of the school’s bubble, possibly tracking the risk of infection with them. These are significant problems which will require legitimate solutions which the school is attempting to address with its One Emerson Flex Learning model.

“One Emerson Flex Learning consists largely of blended learning, in which most courses combine in-person experiences alternating with synchronous and asynchronous technologies,” said Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Jim Hoppe in a message to the Emerson community.

Emerson’s return to campus model will also feature testing upon arrival followed by weekly testing to ensure the safety of the students and faculty. Students who test positive will be quarantined for 14 days in a designated infection dormitory, according to the school’s One Emerson Knowledge Center.

While smaller schools like Emerson are attempting to recoup most of their student populations, local government has been sending a different message to some of the schools in the greater Boston area. On Tuesday Aug. 4th, the Boston city office sent a letter to the presidents of Boston University and Northeastern University, urging them to switch over to an entirely online model for the semester.

“The greatest public health risk to Boston at the moment is the sheer influx of individuals from out of state.Each of your institutions draws nearly three quarters of your undergraduate population from out of state; for the safety of the city, as many of them as possible should stay home,” said Boston city councilor Kenize Bok in their letter to the university presidents.

Northeastern’s Campus is instituting its NU flex plan, where in-person classroom capacity could be reduced to a third of their initial size and many courses and sessions will be being moved online. Like most universities, masks will be mandatory and requests can be made to accommodate more online learning, says Northeastern Sophomore Juliet Tomasuolo.

As is with most universities in the area, Boston University has adopted a similar strategy of mixed online and in person learning.

“BU basically went radio silent about Fall 2020 plans until around mid June, when they first emailed students and parents,” said Boston University senior Akshai Wadhwani.

Wadhwani says BU announced their LfA (Learn from Anywhere) plan in June as well, giving students time to select whether they want to learn online or in person for their courses and the university will be charging full tuition in both cases.

Across the Charles, Harvard University is taking a different approach to Covid-19 and the fall semester. According to Harvard Senior Sabrina Kim, the University is allowing one class of students to live on campus in the fall (Freshmen) and a class of students in the spring (Seniors).

“Everyone else will be doing school on Zoom,” Kim said, “tution remains full for everyone enrolled.”

No campus buildings including libraries, gyms and dining halls will not be open. Students will not be able to entire dorms where they do not live. Students are allowed to take a leave of absence however students who do this will have to figure out housing in cambridge for themselves when they return, says Kim.

It is clear that there are a variety of possible tactics that can be used to mitigate the looming crisis of Covid-19 in the Fall, when many experts believe to see a significant uptick in cases across the country. While it will be reassuring when a centralized strategy has been developed for universities across the country, this current time period of trial and error will be critical for finding a more permanent solution. It is uncertain what returning to college will look like at the end of future Summers, but the first step to ensuring the resilience of higher education will be to put forth concerted efforts in this Fall.