Three Local Colleges Prepare for Fall Instruction Amidst COVID-19
For so many parents, sending a child off to college is a milestone, akin to a wedding day or buying that first home. Until recently, it’s been a romanticized moment of waving goodbye as the center of your world officially branches out to start a life of their own. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest question parents had was, “Will they come home for Thanksgiving?”
Now, with more than 5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US and more than 170,000 dead so far, questions about college have stretched beyond what anyone could have imagined.
College, as we know it, may never be the same. For three local institutions, navigating the ongoing coronavirus crisis has been a complicated struggle between concern for students’ safety and the quality of the education they are paying for.
On August 7, the California Department of Public Health released a state guidance for reopening college campuses, the first clear direction for higher education from the state before the upcoming school year. The guidance covers basics, such as mandatory masks, washing hands often, putting at least six feet between all desks, and discouraging all unnecessary travel.
The guidance also goes into other aspects of college life, such as encouraging dining halls to provide grab-and-go meals, closing nonessential shared spaces such as lounges, and installing plastic barriers between bathroom sinks.
For housing, colleges are being asked to prioritize single person housing whenever possible. If the college allows two to a room, beds must be kept six feet apart.
Indoor lectures are prohibited for counties on the state’s coronavirus monitoring list for three consecutive days, although in-person labs and specialized courses may continue in those counties. Currently, 38 of California’s 58 counties are on the monitoring list, including Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
In light of that, Santa Barbara City College announced in late July that it would begin its fall semester completely online, with few exceptions. “I know this announcement will come with mixed feelings,” wrote Dr. Utpal Goswami, SBCC superintendent and president,in an address to the SBCC community. “However, we must put safety first.”
The few in-person classes offered, such as nursing, marine diving, and construction technology, broadly fall in line with the guidance to use “non-classroom space” for instruction, such as outdoor spaces.
UC Santa Barbara is returning to school with a similar arrangement of online lecturing and a small array of in-person classes. In-person instruction will be limited to labs, small lectures, and some arts and performance courses. UCSB is also limiting the capacity in its residence halls to no more than two in a room. Incoming residents are required to submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
Although Westmont College initially planned to keep its doors open for the upcoming fall semester, the college’s leadership since decided to start the semester online while remaining hopeful students will return to campus.
“Although the daily infection rate hasn’t come down to the level we need,” said Gayle D. Beebe,the college’s president, in a conference call on August 11. “[The county] is cautiously optimistic that we will be able to repopulate yet this fall.”
During the call-in session, Beebe said he anticipated remote learning to last four weeks. He said he planned to begin repopulating the campus on September 25, and begin in-person teaching on September 28.
State guidance asks colleges to consider “routine systematic testing of staff or students,” though there is no mandate to do so.
Beebe addressed students and parents concerns regarding testing, saying it would be provided at the beginning and throughout the semester. He also said the school was prepared to quarantine and provide contact tracing if a student is infected.
Dr. Edee Schulze, vice president of student life, also spoke during the call, and told students to be ready to come back to their rooms on campus, but remain flexible about the date. “We believe that the best of Westmont is accessed when you live here,” Schulze said.
The county has not yet approved the college’s prorosed September 25 date to begin repopulating the resident halls.