Any college freshman that “went off to college” in the fall of 2020 likely feels put upon by the pandemic. Much of the luster of that first year away from home was dulled by masks, social distancing or online coursework. Only a month ago, all that seemed to have changed. COVID numbers were falling, two thirds of the population had received vaccinations and people were going out and doing things without masks. But just in time for the start of the fall semester, things don’t look as good as they did in June. Still, our healthcare officials and politicians say that students need to be in school from kindergarten to college. This will an especially tedious venture for colleges because they make most of their own rules and no rule ever has buy-in from 100% of the population.
Brandon Busteed recently pinned an article for Forbes Education that voices his concerns about why colleges may have a difficult year trying to get back to normal. An attempt to get back to normal will be a major part of the problem. Practically all those students who were in college last year feel like they were cheated out of their college experience. The eagerness to return to normal and make up for lost time could result in behavior that would be unsafe even if there was no pandemic.
On the other side of the desk sits faculty, staff and administrators. These people had to reinvent college education on the fly last year and what do they get for their efforts? Get back to work on returning things to normal… They are understandably exhausted and frustrated at being yanked unceremoniously from their comfort zones. To add insult to injury, things will not return to normal. Now that students have been given a glimpse of what is possible, many will demand more flexibility in the way that courses are offered. They now know that the barriers have been removed for caps on popular classes and that there is no need to schedule courses incredibly early in the morning or too late in the evening.
When you consider the large numbers of people who enjoyed working from home and have made arrangements to continue to do so, how will the college coax them back to campus? Consider how many colleges were struggling to stay afloat before the pandemic and had to return money to students when their campuses shut down. There are also old problems like access to college and the college debt crisis. Having to make decisions on all these factors after being told by the government go shut things down will only put the target of public opinion squarely on the backs of the colleges. These things could make for a very long year…