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Universities, schools pondering fall classes amid coronavirus concerns

The closure of college campuses in March left many wondering what decisions would be made about the fall 2020 semester.  

With the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and more and more universities making decisions about the fall semester, there has been a lot of concern about the health and safety of students and professors as well as other staff and faculty at colleges.  

There have been many conversations about the best course of action, however some students are considering or have already decided to take some time off until they deem it safe to return to college.  

A survey, conducted in March and April, commissioned by the American Council on Education (ACE) and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) was sent out to 2,000 students currently enrolled in college. The survey sought to understand the impact of COVID-19 on fall 2020 enrollment and what students were planning. A total of 12 percent of survey recipients are uncertain or no longer plan to enroll in college this fall. Three percent said that they are planning to enroll in the fall but only to make up classes no completed in the spring due to COVID-19 concerns which, according ACE and AACRAO, means “…it is not clear those students are planning to fully re-enroll.” Furthermore, three percent said they were not planning to enroll in the first place and that remains unchanged. That totals 17 percent of students who are uncertain about enrolling in courses in the fall or have already made the decision not to enroll.  

The pandemic is also affecting high school students. Many school districts closed their schools and moved their classes online as well.  

This predicament really affected high school seniors who graduated in May. As they were supposed to be entering a new time in their life and preparing for college, instead they are trying to make decisions about whether or not to even go to college during these times.  

Carnegie Dartlet sent out a series of surveys. The first was sent out to high school seniors in March and was aimed at assessing their thoughts on COVID-19. The second survey was a follow up survey that “asked important new questions about next steps,” according to Carnegie Dartlet.   

The second survey, which received 2,847 responses from seniors in high school, revealed that 42 percent will not delay going to college and only 2 percent planned to delay. The rest said that there was a slight chance (26 percent), some chance (22 percent), or a high chance (9 percent) that they would delay.   

Student were also asked to respond to certain scenarios and identify their most likely course of action if the college or university they committed to make certain decisions regarding the fall 2020 semester. If their school decided to open campus as usual in the fall 43 percent would attend normally. If the campus opened with social distancing guidelines, 58 percent would attend normally. If their campus opened with some virtual courses and events, 43 percent would attend normally. If courses were moved entirely online for a quarter or semester, only 26 percent would attend normally.  

Additionally, the survey asked if students would consider taking college classes online. Twenty-eight percent of survey recipients would not consider taking classes online while a combined 68 percent said there was a slight chance, some chance or high chance of them taking college classes online.   

While there’s a clear majority opinion among high school students in taking classes online, the survey shows that there is a divide between student opinions of online courses.  

So, how should education, at the high school level as well as the college level, address this issue and what steps should educational institutions take to ensure the health and safety of all students, faculty and staff while also providing the best education possible?  

Many schools have already made decisions regarding the fall semester. Some are returning to campus with mandatory social distancing and mask requirements while other colleges and universities have already decided that their fall semesters will occur entirely online via alternate delivery methods.  

This is a big decision and it effects every student as well as every teacher and professor. Schools could take polls and figure out the best course of action depending on what the majority of students and staff want to happen yet there are still some who would be left unhappy with the decision.  

The first thing that needs to be understood is that not everyone is going to be happy with any decision that is made. Part of that is because the United States is deeply divided on all issues right now, but that’s a different can of worms.  

The best way to ensure that all students and professors are happy with the decision that is made is to let them decide for themselves. If students want to take online classes, they should be able to make that decision. If professors want to teach online classes, they should be able to make that decision.  

We are the ones that have to go to class, or teach, or be on campus therefore we should be the ones to make the decisions.  

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