Li Yen Ho
Colleges are undergoing many changes in 2020. COVID-19 has been a force to be reckoned with, and both the universities and its students face challenges during these unprecedented times. Colleges must coordinate a plan to either close campus or maintain extremely strict safety procedures to suppress the coronavirus. Students are faced with choosing remote learning at some colleges, in-person lectures that lack the trademark aspects of the college experience at others, or opting for a gap year in hopes the next year will bring more of a semblance to normality.
Thomas Edison State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, both with more than 10,000 students enrolled, have opted to reopen fully in person. University of Pennsylvania, Michigan State University, Harvard University, and Columbia University have opted to reopen fully online with 78% of colleges choosing a plan in between. Colleges like Thomas Edison State see the benefits of reopening their campuses to turn a profit. Income from dorm rooms and other businesses fuels the desire to reopen their campuses traditionally. Despite COVID-19, colleges staying open will always turn a higher profit than closed colleges or online ones. However, colleges like Michigan State and Harvard put their student and staff’s safety above all else. These colleges are halting all potential for the spread of coronavirus in classrooms and greatly reducing the number of cases in their university and in the cities surrounding. Sacrificing profit from dorm rooms, these universities keep their communities safe.
College-aged students are facing their own decisions during the pandemic. Some see the benefits of a gap year and hope for a more traditional college experience next school year, resulting in colleges noticing a decrease in enrollment rates both in universities and community colleges. Those who do choose to return for the school year, college freshmen especially, report they are not able to take advantage of opportunities traditionally associated with the college experience including making friends, dating, and career experience. Students feel isolated from their family but also the friends they were supposed to make. Interactions on Zoom and in real life feel stilted without the natural support of other students. Seeing classmates in a small square on a computer screen feels impersonal and awkward when trying to work together. Classes on campus have practice social distancing and include little group work.
Both colleges and their students are forced to adapt to and navigate through these unparalleled times with a novel virus. Both must choose their battles to fight: for safety, for an income, an education, or a career. There is no easy choice and there is no universally correct choice in this matter; everyone must choose the path they believe to be most correct and expect everyone else to do the same.