college this fall
©istockphoto.com / kzenon

We’re all wondering how schools will decide to teach our kids in the fall—remote, in-person or a hybrid of the two? Learning in the safest atmosphere is what’s most important during a pandemic, which is why our concerns are heightened for teens headed to college this fall. One thing’s for sure: They shouldn’t expect a traditional higher education experience.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is currently tracking individual colleges’ plans, most US colleges are planning for an in-person fall semester. Of the 970 colleges surveyed, 65 percent are planning for in-person studies, while 12 percent are proposing a hybrid model, 9 percent are considering a range of scenarios, 8 percent are planning for online courses and 6 percent are still waiting to decide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has already issued guidelines for institutions of higher education to protect students and employees, and slow the spread of COVID-19. Of course, the lowest risk is keeping to virtual-only learning options. But when it comes to in-person instruction, small classes, activities and events with social distancing and staggered schedules (plus small class sizes and hybrid  virtual and in-person classes) are considered better options than full-size, in-person classes, activities and events.

When it comes to housing, the CDC recommends residence halls are closed, where feasible. If not, the next level of risk recommends opening residence halls at a lower capacity and closing shared spaces (common areas, kitchens). The CDC also recommends cloth face coverings, handwashing and promoting behaviors that reduce the spread of illness, like staying home and self-isolating when appropriate, and adding signs and messages around campus that promote everyday protective measures. In addition, cleaning and disinfection measures should be taken (especially in high-touch areas), physical barriers, guides and grab-and-go options for meals should also be implemented.

Taking all of these precautions into consideration, traditional college experiences are pretty much off the table for the foreseeable future. Dorm living won’t be the same—will students have roommates, and how can they safely use communal bathrooms? Dining halls will no longer be a space for gathering, and classes typically held in lecture halls, or any size of classroom, will need to be modified to keep students at least six feet apart. Activities that gather in groups, like sports or clubs and Greek life probably won’t follow a traditional, in-person route, either. Some classes and activities may be canceled altogether, if the college is experiencing budget cuts.

“As a rising senior at the University of Maryland, I never expected my last year of undergrad to consist of daily temperature recordings, hybrid classes and reserving living spaces for quarantine,” says Jennifer Mandato, a Basking Ridge resident. “Aside from the academic changes that are going to occur, my friends and I will have to adapt to commemorating our accomplishments in a non-traditional way as we’re expecting not to have events like football games and tailgates, sorority formals, or potentially a typical graduation ceremony.”

On Wednesday, Governor Murphy announced the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education has guidance for colleges and universities to reopen for in-person instruction. Schools must submit their plans two weeks ahead of time for approval.

In order to resume in-person instruction on campus, plans must include the following procedures and policies:

  • Training for students regarding COVID-19 sanitation and social distancing practices
  • Training for staff on appropriate sanitization and social distancing practices, plus institutional policies to limit the spread of COVID-19
  • Use of face coverings for faculty, staff, students and visitors, except when doing so would inhibit the individual’s health
  • Frequent cleaning and sanitization of classrooms, residences, restrooms, high-touch areas and equipment and shared surfaces
  • Maintenance of adequate supplies, such as personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies
  • Continued remote instruction for faculty and/or students who are unable to participate in in-person instruction
  • Social distancing in classrooms, residence halls, restrooms and other areas across campus
  • Limitations on the number of students who may return to residence halls and restricted access to residential common areas, plus a designation of spaces for separation of individuals residing on campus who display symptoms or have a positive diagnosis of COVID-19
  • A plan for on-campus transportation, which should include protocols for transporting sick students residing on campus to essential appointments as needed
  • A plan for the operation of research labs, if applicable
  • A plan for the operation of computer labs
  • Strategies for food service and dining operations to ensure compliance with all health and safety standards and applicable Executive Orders
  • A plan for intended resumption of athletics programs, if applicable
  • A plan for the operation of student services
  • Strategy for study abroad programs and international travel, if applicable
  • Performance of health screenings for faculty, staff, students and visitors and education regarding self-monitoring for symptoms
  • Commitment to working with local and state officials, including the local health department and local office of emergency management, to share the components of the restart plan and revise as may become necessary
  • Establishment of COVID-19 testing guidance and contact tracing protocols developed in consultation with local health officials and in line with existing State and federal health privacy statutes and regulations. At a minimum, such protocols should include a mechanism to maintain a log of students, faculty, staff and visitors to facilitate contact tracing, and the reporting of any instances of COVID-19 to local health officials.

Once a school has submitted its plan to the Secretary, it must be posted online and provided to students and staff in advance of implementation.

college this fall
The College of New Jersey, ©istockphoto.com / ldeitman

Local colleges and universities are considering their options. Here’s where some of them currently stand:

*This list does not include every higher learning institution in NJ, or community colleges

Bloomfield College: A task force has been created to plan for the fall semester developing alternatives should the government delay a return to in-person instruction.

Caldwell University: No decisions have been announced.

Centenary University: No decisions have been announced.

College of Saint Elizabeth: No decisions have been announced.

The College of New Jersey: TCNJ will wait as long as possible to make a final determination, which is anticipated on June 30.

Drew University: A three-week, staggered move-in period will begin August 16 and classes will begin August 24. For the first three weeks, all instruction will be virtual. In-person instruction will begin September 14. On-campus residency will end Thanksgiving week with a staggered move-out schedule. Post-Thanksgiving classes and exam periods will take place remotely.

Fairleigh Dickinson University: Semester will start early on August 17 with the first three weeks of instruction online-only. Face-to-face instruction will begin September 8 and the semester will end on November 24.

Kean University: Classes will begin September 1. As of now, on-campus, hybrid and online-only classes will be available. In-person classes will be conducted in accordance with social distancing guidelines and face coverings.

Montclair State University: No decisions have been announced.

New Jersey Institute of Technology: Preparing for in-person instruction in the fall.

Princeton University: A decision will be announced in early July.

Rider University: The Fall 2020 Planning Task Force is currently evaluating all options for the fall semester.

Rowan University: No decisions have been announced.

Rutgers University: No decisions have been announced.

Seton Hall University: Classes will begin August 24 with both on-campus and remote learning options. Classes will conclude November 24 and finals will be administered remotely for two weeks following Thanksgiving.

Stevens Institute of Technology: Stevens is preparing for an in-person, reduced density university environment this fall.

Stockton University: No decisions have been announced. A final set of recommendations will be presented to President Kesselman in early July, following the release of guidance from Governor Murphy.

William Paterson University: Classes will begin a week or two early and conclude at Thanksgiving break.

Each institution will decide the best path for its staff and students, but no matter its decision, students won’t have anything close to a traditional college experience this fall. Are you planning to send your kids to live at college this fall? Will they live off campus or in a dorm? Tell us in the comments below.

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