In my last blog post, I began to address how I expect COVID-19 will impact the college experience in the 2020-2021 school year. In this post, I discuss other ways the college experience is likely to be impacted.
Campus Dining –Normally, college dining halls are indoor places where students congregate and socialize while eating. Because of social distancing concerns, I think students will not generally be eating in the dining halls. They may be eating primarily in their dorm rooms or in outdoor locations, when it is warm and dry enough.
In a “normal” semester, many dining halls provide an all-you-can-eat experience with self-service for many foods. I expect that all-you-can-eat and self-service will be eliminated for 2020-2021.
Some colleges are trying new ways to get meals to students. For example:
- Rider University allows students to order meals from smartphone apps and delivers the meals to food lockers, where students can pick them up without interacting with others.
- George Mason University and the University of Houston are piloting robotic delivery fleets that deliver meals to students.
Dorms – I think that this year three or four people in a dorm room will disappear. I expect there will still be doubles.
Reducing the density in dorm rooms and putting aside rooms for quarantine, means that there will be less housing available on many campuses.
The cleaning frequency of shared spaces, like hall bathrooms will increase.
Extracurricular Activities - The number of people gathering at any activity will be reduced. For example, the maximum number of people at parties will be reduced based on the venue space.
Many activities may be canceled or altered significantly because of the need for social distancing. For example, some contact sports will be canceled or played without students in the stands.
International Scene – I expect there will be fewer international students on campus, because many international students can’t get visas, especially freshmen. Many study abroad activities will be canceled or postponed due to the inability of US students to get visas to go abroad and/or because of the COVID-19 situation in other countries.
Financial Aid - More families may be looking for need-based financial aid because of loss of jobs, cuts in pay, death of a student’s parent, reduction in asset value and medical bills.
More families may take Federal student loans because the interest rates for 2020-2021 are much lower than in previous years. The Federal student loan interest rate for 2020-2021 is 2.75%, and the Federal Parent PLUS loan interest rate is 5.3%.
College Finances – Many colleges will be struggling financially. As of June 22nd, more than 750 colleges had openings and many expect a bigger than usual summer melt. State funding of public universities is likely to go down in many states because of reduced tax revenues and increased expenses related to COVID-19. The college revenue shortfall may lead to program cuts, pay cuts and layoffs, and even college closure. For example, the University of Alaska will cut 39 academic departments. Elmira College (NY) is eliminating several academic programs and is reducing its staff by 20%.
The Big Picture - The 2020-2021 school year is one in which colleges will need to plan carefully, communicate clearly to students and their families, enforce safety precautions, and be creative and nimble to respond to the changing conditions. There are serious risks for all involved.