College students are preparing to return to campus in the fall. Worth it?

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Gomi Zou logs on to her computer to virtually attend her communications class – a taped lecture voiced by her teacher in the context of a black screen.

“I spend five hours every day of the week watching lectures on my computer, which does not include preparation and homework for classes,” he said.

22-year-old Zou is a senior taking online summer classes at the University of California, Los Angeles, and plans to offer in-person classes with the remote learning option this fall. Along with millions of college students across the United States, she transitioned to online instruction when college campuses closed to curb the spread of the coronavirus in March.

For students like Zou, taking classes online was a difficult adjustment. Many were devastated to leave campus prematurely, part with their friends, and end the rest of the semester with Zoom calls. Some reported concerns about a decline in the quality of instruction. Others thought that the decision to suddenly close the campuses did not consider the needs of low-income students who lack the resources to go home or have poor access to Wi-Fi.

Now, as universities unveil a mosaic of reopening plans ranging from face-to-face learning, remote classes, or a hybrid model, college students are caught in the desire to return to campus despite lingering fears of coronavirus, or continuing remote learning while missing more traditional learning. universitary experience

Zou doesn’t want to risk going back if her classes are in person, but she said, despite having an established routine, long-term remote learning is unsustainable.

“It doesn’t matter how you divide it, it’s just a lose-lose situation,” he said.

According to a report from the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is tracking more than 1,000 campus reopening plans, 61 percent of universities plan to return to a semester in person, only 8 percent have decided to continue distance learning and 22 percent will offer a mix. The remaining 9 percent of campuses are still considering a range of options and have not yet made a final decision.

To hinder the spread of COVID-19, university campuses reopening to students have prepared preventative measures such as mandatory masks, improved cleaning protocols, and socially distant and reduced-occupancy dormitories and classrooms. Some universities are considering using tents for outdoor classrooms. Most campuses have also outlined a plan for fever checkpoints, COVID-19 testing, and contact tracing.

But despite these protective measures, experts say reopening universities is too dangerous.

“Universities are under intense political and financial pressure to reopen,” said Robert Kelchen, associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. “Coronavirus cases are spiraling out of control in most parts of the country, and while 18-year-olds are not at much risk, the surrounding community at large may be at risk.”

Some students expressed similar concerns, feeling just as concerned about returning this fall.

Jessica Sunderhaft, 19, a sophomore at Ohio State University, said that while excited about returning to campus, she was skeptical that students follow the health guidelines.

“I can already imagine everyone going out,” he said. “We all use the same bathrooms again and everything in these shared and closed spaces.”

As a dual major in strategic communications and film, the Ohio native said that while she understood the challenges of completing online arts and science classes that require in-person instruction, the health of the students was a major concern.

“I don’t want to be the reason someone gets sick,” he said.

Victoria HaydenCourtesy of Victoria Hayden.

Victoria Hayden, 20, had trouble communicating with her teachers and peers last spring at Indiana University, Purdue University in Indianapolis. This fall, the school offers a combination of in-person and online instruction.

“You can’t easily contact teachers to ask questions and there’s not much collaboration you can do just because not all students are available at the same time they would be in class,” said Hayden, a third-year student. , said.

This, along with protecting the safety of his family and friends, is one of the many reasons why Hayden prefers to continue learning at a distance in the fall.

“I learned better in class, but only because of the virus, I would honestly stay home,” he said.

Some universities have shortened the semester by giving up breaks to prevent transmission of the virus and ending classroom instruction on Thanksgiving Day. Others have amazing arrival dates or delay the start of classes until September or October.

Regardless of the effort universities are investing in their campuses to reopen, the reality for many students is that most teaching will be remote since socially distanced classrooms can only have a fraction of their usual capacity.

Many students are frustrated at justifying the full cost of an academic semester, and requests for tuition cuts have increased.

Natasha Bacchus, 21, is a senior at the American University studying film and media, whose classes require hands-on, collaborative projects. While the school offers a hybrid model of instruction, she said she was outraged by universities that still charge full tuition.

“I refuse to pay thousands of dollars for a Zoom yoga class,” said Bacchus. “If we have reduced access to dormitories, recreation centers and clubs, there is no point in paying full tuition for a limited college experience, let alone remote learning.”

“What am I really paying?”

Students from dozens of American universities have filed lawsuits against their schools demanding partial refunds of tuition and campus fees, alleging that they were not receiving the caliber of education they were promised.

Other students have filed petitions demanding a reduction in tuition, housing, and campus fees.

Some wealthier private universities, such as Williams College and Bowdoin College, have offered tuition reductions in the 10-15 percent range, and several schools have announced the suspension and freezing of tuition. Davidson College in North Carolina, meanwhile, allows students to attend classes this fall while tuition fees differ.

But the demand to reduce tuition fees is not as simple as it sounds, Kelchen said. A vast majority of colleges cannot afford to lose revenue from tuition cuts.

“Universities still have to pay faculty and staff to deliver an education, along with residences and classrooms that will not be at full capacity,” he said. “Those costs don’t go away online.”

In addition, tuition cuts could have the unintended consequence of reducing a student’s financial aid, leaving him paying the same net price for his college education, the University of Southern California Associate Specialist Robert J. Massa wrote in a Opinion article in May. for Insider Higher Ed.

“Students must understand that the very existence of their university may be at stake as the economic consequences of the pandemic become apparent,” Massa wrote. “In the meantime, universities must do everything possible to help students in this difficult time so they can complete their education, earn their degree, and launch their lives. Ultimately, that’s what students and families want, and that’s what their tuition dollars make possible. “

Kelchen’s best advice for students? Ask lots of questions about what going back to campus will really be like.

“Universities are not going to have their canteens open, they are not going to have social activities, students are basically going to class once in a while, and the rest of the time is being spent in their dorm,” Kelchen said.