The Future of Higher Education

How long will the pandemic and its aftermath last?  

Regions of the United States that have been effectively shut down since February are only now beginning to open up.  Many regions that opened up too quickly are now seeing exponential growth in virus transmissions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said there are 25 potential vaccines in clinical trials worldwide. Phase 3 testing is ongoing, involving 30,000 volunteers.

The Department of Health and Human Services has said that next January is a likely timeframe for an effective vaccine.  Their initiative titled Operation Warp Speed aims to deliver 300 million doses of a safe and effective vaccine by the peak of the next flu season.  While many experts cite that as overly optimistic, they are predicting that the vaccine will be available by the middle of next year.

And how much time will it take for the vaccine to be effective? At least 70 percent to 85 percent of the population must have immunity either through prior infection or through a vaccine to beat the coronavirus, top scientists estimated at a congressional hearing in late June.  “It’s really got to be over 70 percent of the population that’s got to be immune before we even begin to see any impact on herd immunity,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield.

“The great thing in this world is not so much where you stand, as in what direction you are moving.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

How long until we return to normal?

Marguerite Dennis in an article for the University World News cited the following:

  • The Covid 19 pandemic has caused a radical change in consumer spending worldwide.
  • China’s $64.6 Billion study abroad program may
    never return to that level.
  • Forecasts for the long shadow of disruption from the Covid pandemic are from 6 months to 5 years.It took Higher Education 2 years to recover from the SARS.
  • Higher Education will return and of that there is little doubt.  Bert Van Der Swan, former Director of Utrech University in the Netherlands said that of 30 universities that existed in Europe during the bubonic plague only five were completely wiped out.

Although there are exceptions, many institutions are developing plans to reopen for the Fall Semester with many pandemic-related changes to campus life.  The Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed three College presidents to see how their campuses might look this Fall.

Michael Young, President of Texas A&M University, Sharon Pierce of Minnesota Community and Technical College (MCTC) and Clayton Rose of Bowdoin College all agreed on the basic challenge of providing the safest environment possible for their students, faculty and staff. Particular issues are the quantities and distribution of PPE, the monitoring of compliance to campus safety guidelines and the frequency of testing.

Bowdoin College will reduce their on-campus population by 60%.

MCTC will upgrade all academic spaces to accommodate distance learning and improve HVAC systems. In addition they will follow CDC Guidelines by decreasing classroom occupancies and enhance cleaning.  All in-person classes will be broadcast but at least 72% of their enrollment will attend at least two classes per week in person.

MCTC is an urban campus with an enrollment of over 70% from under-served populations.  In order to promote equity the College will lend IT devices, provide Wi-Fi hotspots, keep on-campus computer labs open, operate on-campus food pantries and increase the amount of emergency grants to students.

Founders Hall – St. John Fisher College

A look at the websites of several Colleges and Universities in and around Albany, NY show that they are all opening this Fall but with slightly different approaches.  

It is recommended that the website of each institution be consulted for specifics:

College of Saint Rose: Face masks and social distancing will be required in all congregate areas. 70% of all courses will be hybrid. No decision has been made regarding congregate music groups such as choral, orchestra and band.

Siena College: All international students and students returning from states with high rates of infection will have to quarantine for 14 days on campus per NYS regulations. And the Fall Semester will end before Thanksgiving.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: For the fall semester, only the freshmen, seniors, and graduate students will be invited to be on campus. The sophomore and junior classes will alternate being on campus over the Fall and Spring semesters.

University at Albany: Classes will start as scheduled but the academic calendar will be shortened to minimize the risk of travel-related infection. . Courses will be delivered in one of three broad categories: in-person (all students participate face-to-face), hybrid (a combination of face-to-face and online) and fully online.

Sage Colleges: Classes will begin on Monday, August 24, and students will be expected to attend classes during two traditional campus holidays — Labor Day and Fall Break. These changes reduce three-day-weekend travel and allow for an earlier end to the semester. All classes and final exams following the Thanksgiving break will be offered remotely or online.

Hudson Valley Community College: The Fall semester will begin on Monday, Aug. 31 and end on Friday, Dec. 18, as originally scheduled. The majority of courses will be held online or in a remote learning format, with a limited number of on-campus/in-person lecture courses, labs and hybrid classes.

What will a Mid/Post – COVID Campus look like?

Higher Education will not be the same after the pandemic. Marguerite Dennis continues her article in University World News by identifying several opportunities: extend recruitment and admissions occur throughout the year and institutionalize the best of hybrid and on-line courses.

Opportunities also abound in areas of facility design and programming:

  • Design facilities that respond to both pandemic and non-pandemic models.
  • Improved filtration in HVAC systems.
  • Design classrooms spaces for synchronous and asynchronous digital broadcasting. This include sight lines, lighting and acoustics.
  • Design classrooms that are sized for scaling sections down to accommodate distancing models in future pandemics.
  • Design food service facilities capable of operating on a call-in/pick-up basis.

Post-pandemic facility design and programming should be explored beyond the immediate pressures for new school year opening. Master Planning allows for testing and exploration of potential solutions by the administration and campus community through a process that can be controlled and shepherded, while concepts are tested, costed and prioritized. 

We at Saratoga Associates have successfully developed Master Plans with institutions of higher education throughout the northeast and the country. And we would be happy to explore those opportunities with you. Please call Don Minnery at 518-587-2550 x2215.

Video Credit: Andrew Hanson, Aerial View of a School Ground
Music: Canva Free Media, Wisdom in the Sun