For months, colleges have attempted to battle the COVID-19 pandemic while accommodating students’ needs and desires. For some schools, that meant closing campuses entirely; for others, it meant allowing students to return to campuses while taking online classes. Some colleges have even attempted to hold in-person classes.
According to the New York Times, more than 130,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in colleges, with larger schools such as the University of Georgia boasting up to 3,532 cases as of Monday. Whether students have been allowed on campus or not, COVID-19 has stripped students of the “classic” college experience—full of independence, new social connections, parties, football games and in-person education. As long as strict safety measures are in place, colleges should hold classes online but have in-person housing in order to provide students with the opportunity to begin the next chapter of their lives.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), COVID-19 has already taken over 204,000 lives nationwide and infected more than 7 million people; the virus cannot be taken lightly and strict safety precautions must be put in place. Schools that have not chosen to implement safety guidelines have had to bear the consequences—namely, by shutting down. The CDC has proven that social distancing is effective, because although the virus can live for days on a surface, the most likely cause of transmission has been close physical contact. Despite this, many students have continued to throw parties and hold large gatherings without repercussions from school administration.
Mask wearing, social distancing and other safety guidelines must be implemented at in-person schools, and if students do not abide they should face serious consequences. According to a freshman living on campus, the University of California Berkeley has limited residential hall housing to single-person dorm rooms, which students were only able to exit after a mandatory two-week quarantine period upon arrival. Students get tested twice a week, most halls are closed and the consequences for not following guidelines are severe: if a student becomes infected, their whole dorm is sent to a quarantine area. If protocol is broken again, a hearing and trial must be held in which the student most likely is put on probation. If students continue to disregard regulations, they are evicted from on-campus housing.
Such measures have been effective—according to the New York Times, only 209 Berkeley students have tested positive despite the school being one of the largest public universities in the country. Some schools, such as Northeastern, have taken even more drastic measures—at the start of September, eleven students were expelled without refunding tuition after finding them at a hotel party, according to NBC Boston. While campuses should remain open, they must carefully follow such safety measures in order to ensure that students take the threat of the virus seriously and act accordingly to slow the spread of disease.
Many may argue that schools should not reopen even with careful safety measures, since the risk of the virus is too great and college students cannot be trusted with that responsibility. However, college is a crucial time period in a young adult’s life. A student are thrust into the “real” world, finally independent of their family’s household and restrictions. It is a time of rapid change and growth, where students meet new people, make lasting friendships and are exposed to a new environment to which they must adjust. To accommodate students who do not feel comfortable on campus, there should be an option to stay home while attending class remotely. However, other students may come from homes that cannot financially support a college student. They may live in a household that is distracting for online classes or in an unsafe environment. School residential halls should be open to provide for students who cannot focus on school in their home environment.
One major factor prohibiting students from returning to campus, however, is tuition. Currently, most schools are charging full tuition for online school, which many would argue is not as valuable as a traditional brick-and-mortar education. This is especially the case for classes centered around in-person experiences, such as labs, and for private universities where in-person resources such as private mentors are what justify the high tuition costs. Many families have expressed concern that tuition rates have not been lowered in light of the stark difference in student experience in-person versus online, adding onto the student debt crisis which has been prevalent for years. According to the New York Times, some households have already begun signing petitions and protesting against the full-tuition requirement. While professors must be paid, compromises are crucial during this time when many families are struggling to make ends meet. One trade-off that has been implemented at Berkeley is a working student contract, where students receiving financial aid must contribute to the community in some way. For example, one student is teaching preschool classes, which gives them the benefit of social interaction while reducing tuition costs.
Opening campuses for residential housing comes with great risk; however, it also comes with great opportunity and experience. Moving into a residential hall with other students eager to make friends and learn in their new environment will undoubtedly lead to meaningful experiences, ones that could not be facilitated over Zoom. In light of these experiences, and with the additional difficulties of learning at home, students should be able to make the most out of their college experience by living on campus, given that tuition is more affordable and colleges enforce proper safety measures.