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3 Approaches to College Reopening for Fall 2020

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college reopening

By Earl Sires

Wondering how your university can safely re-open in Fall 2020? You’re not alone. To address the apprehension of faculty and students concerned about the risk of COVID-19, college reopening plans for Fall 2020 vary widely. There are many factors to consider: health and safety, state and local policy, fiscal viability, local and regional risk levels, and more.

Across the country, schools are examining data and the unique factors impacting their students, faculties, and operations to decide how best to proceed. Some schools are planning to delay or postpone openings altogether, while many others are still in the process of putting a plan in place. There is no universally right answer: only the answer that is right for your university.

In this post, we will highlight three examples of colleges implementing the most common approaches to returning to instruction in Fall 2020, and we’ll discuss how implementing the right data tools can help your university come to a decision about how to proceed.

Returning to Campus: Arizona State University
returning to campus

At this time, many universities plan to return to in-person, on-campus instruction in Fall of 2020. Among the schools following this path is ASU.

In an announcement on their website, ASU’s President, Michael M. Crow, explained that “…ASU will implement whatever safety measures and health protocols are necessary to keep students and employees safe. And, we will continue to follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Arizona Department of Health Services.”

The plan is, as all plans are at this time, contingent upon the circumstances and changing guidance from the government. The impact of coronavirus varies significantly between states, and even within regions of states. The viability of a full college reopening in the Fall will depend on the surrounding environment. If state policy and other regulatory measures don’t change over the summer, a full re-opening, with safety precautions like those that ASU plans to implement, will represent the closest approximation of a return to normal that higher education is likely to see in Fall 2020. 

Still, the experience of students on campus will likely be significantly different than in years past. Additional safety measures and guidelines are in place regarding group gatherings for traditional events like sports. How these changes will impact student decisions surrounding semesters beyond Fall 2020 is entirely speculative at this stage.

Fully Online: The California State University System

online class

California’s university system is the most high-profile example of a school converting to almost-entirely online learning. Classes will be conducted over the internet outside of “limited exceptions for in-person teaching, learning and research activities that cannot be delivered virtually.” 

The CSU system does not plan to discount tuition or fees due to the shift to online learning. “We are keeping our employees. Our cost drivers aren’t going down. In fact, they’re actually going up with respect to the cost of delivery, with the added technology we need to purchase, the added training we need to do,” said CSU Chancellor Timothy White. Many schools, particularly public schools, face new obstacles in obtaining funding. State and national budgets are strained, which makes securing funding more difficult than usual.

One key difference between the Spring 2020 semester and what students can expect in the Fall is that faculty will have the full summer to plan and adapt courses for the online format, rather than being rushed into the change suddenly, as happened in the immediate response to COVID-19.

It remains to be seen how willing most students will be to pay full price for online classes. 79% of students recently surveyed by Niche said that tuition should not be charged at the same level if classes are conducted in an online or hybrid format. The majority of students surveyed by Niche rank the resumption of on-campus housing and social events as either Very Important or Important.

If the fully-online model is successful, it could lead to a major shift in higher education. If the model struggles to demonstrate value, it will be a noteworthy benchmark of the value proposition of purely-online education.

A Hybrid Approach: Southern New Hampshire University


Many schools are planning a hybrid approach to the coming term. At SNHU, for example, students will return to campus and live in the dormitories, but classes will be held online. This experimental method intends to reduce extended in-person contact while still offering freshmen some of what students expect out of their college experience. It also allows SNHU to more quickly switch back to in-person instruction once they assess that it is feasible to do so.

The incoming class size is limited to 1,050 students. The school is also waiving the tuition fee for a new student’s first year, as well as reducing tuition for the remaining years. 

Creativity and flexibility will be critical to viability under the challenging circumstances. Observing the results of experimental methods such as SNHU’s will be informative for the future. It is likely that these short-term measures will translate into shifts in larger trends.

Other schools adopting a hybrid approach to college reopening this Fall include Vanderbilt, The University of Alaska (Anchorage), and Palomar.

To check on a specific school’s plans for re-opening or to view aggregate information, visit the Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of school re-opening plans. Please note: you must have paid Chronicle membership to view the article.

Is your university is working through reopening options for the Fall 2020 term? There’s a tool that can help you analyze your options and come to a final decision. That tool is data analytics.

How Can Analytics Help You Form a College Reopening Plan?

In unprecedented situations, you can no longer count on existing methods or benchmarks like Decision Day numbers. At the same time, analyzing data before making decisions is more important than ever. Tools like pre-built enrollment prediction models no longer deliver the same results. They can’t account for the changing landscape and new variables. Adaptability is key.

Flexible, efficient data tools allow you to rapidly shift gears, test variables, and experiment to see how various reopening strategies will impact budgets, health and safety, curriculum needs, and other factors, without actually committing resources. You can test various approaches to see which makes the most sense for your school. What level of tuition discount is viable if classes go fully online? What benchmarks can you implement to monitor the success of a phased reopening? How might unorthodox operational approaches impact KPIs and revenue?

Ask and answer these questions with Rapid Insight’s flexible data preparation, predictive modeling, and data sharing tools. Rapid Insight makes it easy to organize data, build predictive models, and share accessible insights across your entire campus. Get actionable, updated, understandable data on college reopening in the hands of decision-makers and stakeholders at your university.

For more information, visit our Higher Education solutions page.

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