The Many Plans of Colleges in America, 2020

August 3, 2020

When I realized that Covid might not have only spoiled my senior year of high school, but my freshman year of college, I was overcome with anxiety and concern. I could feel this thing that I had worked so hard for and was so close to, get taken away with each new story of skyrocketing cases. I know. Having a compromised college experience is not exactly the worst thing to come from Covid, but it was all that I could think about.

Then the news came: Tufts, my college, would be opening in the fall! I was ecstatic. But, Tufts had a very interesting plan. During those weeks of anticipation, I had only thought of two options: school would open, or it would be all online. The reality is more nuanced than that. Each college has crafted a plan to suit its needs. On the whole, this is a good thing, but it means that navigating your college’s reopening can be a bit complicated, or choosing between attending different colleges with different attendance policies can be confusing. The Tufts action plan is outlined in a 70-page pdf! So, I thought it could be helpful to outline some of the most popular college reopening strategies, and give my brief thoughts about each one.

In-Person Attendance Only

Some colleges are looking to open up completely. This means there will be no online-only option. This is by far the least common option of the three strategies outlined in this blog. So far, the leading university pursuing this option is Texas International. While this does mean that all students are operating on an equal, in-person playing field, it poses real issues for foreign students. While some students will be excited to attend, others may not be able to attend because of country-specific travel restrictions.

Online Classes Only

Many schools in California have decided that this is the strategy most suitable for their institutions. One could argue that is by far the fairest option. No student has the significant learning advantage that can come with attending a class in-person. Unfortunately, just recently U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued guidelines that will significantly complicate this reopening strategy for some foreign students. According to an article in the The New York Times, “newly enrolled international students will not be able to come to the U.S. to study this fall if their classes are taught entirely online.”

The Hybrid Model: Online and In-Person Classes

In this model, followed by many liberal arts schools and universities including Tufts, small classes will meet in person, while large lectures (more than fifty students) will meet online. Additionally, many of these schools will offer an online-only variant for students who prefer not to attend in-person. I’m quite happy that Tufts chose this option. There is no question that I would hate going to an online-only college in September. But as great as it is for me to be able to attend a college campus this fall, the dual in-person and online strategy that provides that opportunity could be unethical and problematic. These structures can create a two-tiered system of education. The colleges are permitted to provide the premium, in-person education to American students while potentially freezing out some foreign students from certain countries who are forced to opt-in to the online-only variant.

Right now higher education is in unexplored territory. There is no right way to reopen a college during a pandemic, and it is unknown how each model will fare for learning while keeping Covid in check. We’ll see how this all pans out, and if any of these new methods will serve to permanently change how we think about college learning.