[InsideHigherEd] Colleges across the United States are sending their students home over growing concern for the spread of coronavirus. Harvard University joined a large number of colleges that will be transitioning instruction from “in person” to “online” or other remote formats.  Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow said that the goal of these changes is to reduce contact with large groups of people for extended periods of time.  Other well-known institutions include Cornell University, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke University, Smith College, Johns Hopkins University, and Rutgers University, to name a few that have followed suit with California and Washington State’s earlier actions to reduce or halt in person instruction.  This is not a comprehensive list of U.S. Universities who will be changing format, and asking students to move off campus for short periods of time, or for the rest of the semester in some cases, as the list continues to grow.

Room and board questions.

Most institutions will provide room and board for students who have no option but to remain on campus, including those from countries with travel restrictions, and others whose primary address is the college campus.  A more comprehensive list of colleges that have announced closures or transitions to online learning in recent days is available on Inside Higher Ed’s website along with other news related to COVID-19.  Each university website will explain the procedures of moving off-campus, and share timelines regarding the possibility of returning to campus.  This action is unsettling for all students, and worse for those who are at risk of homelessness without the campus living setting. Students from lower income backgrounds will be the most-hard hit because they cannot afford to leave and may not have anywhere else to go. Concerns over where they will get food may also be a problem as many students are dependent on cafeteria meal plans and once they close, students still need to be able to access food.

Costs for room and board that students will not be using will need to be credited in some manner, and each university website may provide that information once the administration has a clear picture of how this will be done for all students, including those that receive federal help or scholarship dollars to cover these costs.

Faculty weigh in.

The President of the American Association of University Professors, Rudy Fichtenbaum, is concerned about this transition even though the group applauds university administrators’ actions to keep students, faculty and staff safe, faculty is concerned as they have not been involved in the decision making process which is a violation of the AAUP guidelines.  While certain situations may require closing university campuses and moving to online instruction to safeguard against the spread of illness in a campus community, Fichtenbaum said “Faculty and academic staff, through their shared governance bodies or, when applicable, their unions, should be consulted on how to best implement this decision.”  Administrators must be aware of the faculty concerns regarding changing educational formats mid-semester, and equally address the needs and limitations of students, who may not have easy access to internet or computers to complete remote coursework.

Working details.

United States University Administrators must act swiftly to ensure student needs are being addressed, while working within the confines of best practices posed by higher officials in healthcare, such as CDC to keep the COVID-19 from spreading across their campuses.  The impacts will not only be felt by students, but also by families and employees of the universities.  The federal government has signed off on an emergency aid package that may have to be accessed for some of the financial fallout after forcing college students to leave campus, perhaps giving relieve to workers, families and students directly.  Individuals must keep informed by watching news outlets and follow specifics to university changes that affect families.

 

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