To reopen or not – that is the question for colleges and universities

Will your college or university open this fall? It may sound silly, but for many colleges and universities it’s a pressing question for students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

California State University System Chancellor Timothy White announced Tuesday, May 12, that all 23 of CSU’s universities would remain closed for the fall and only provide online classes.

"This virtual planning approach for the next academic year is necessary because of the evolving data surrounding the progression of COVID-19," White explained to CSU trustees. He went on to say non-partisan researchers and health experts forecast additional waves of infection coupled with the flu season in the fall. White added the public immunity rate is very low, and it is not likely a vaccine will be developed during the academic year.

As public leaders in states and cities ponder an economic and health game plan to reopen, colleges and universities also must make a critical decision about how and when they will reopen their campuses. Many colleges and universities have formed task forces to study this critical issue, which involves a multi-faceted approach built around health, testing, safety, learning, online versus in-person classes, and of course the economic issues caused by COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the major factors as to whether or not a university reopens is simply whether it is public or private. Private universities with tuition and room and board approaching $80,000 a year are facing the reality that parents will not want to pay anything approaching that kind of cost for online classes. Facing this economic reality, assuming their states allow them to open, many leading private universities have already announced that they are opening in the fall (i.e., Brown, Boston University, Cornell). Public universities, while not having the high-tuition issue, face many questions – one being their ability to open to larger numbers of students (i.e., Ohio State University with approximately 65,000 students, or University of Wisconsin, also with approximately 65,000 students) and how do you properly protect and serve that large number of students and faculty, staff and administration.

These are just a few of the large issues that presidents, senior staff, and boards of trustees are having to discuss and plan to answer the fundamental question: To open or not?

+