How Universities Are Preparing for Remote Education in the Fall


The current COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a massive toll on health systems and social structures around the globe. This public health crisis has not only affected the well being of thousands of people and the economies of many countries, but entire industries and institutions.

Higher education institutions have been particularly impacted by the current public health crisis because they perform a multitude of different functions. Most apparent are colleges and universities where undergraduate and graduate students attend classes and faculty members teach and perform research. In addition, these institutions house sports facilities and civic institutions that perform important functions within the community. Colleges employ a large number of individuals and some even operate local hospitals.

Because of these functions, many alternative operation plans have been put in place to keep institutions running, especially when it comes to conducting classes. Retaining as many students as possible is a top priority for many educational leaders. In fact, 86% of college presidents in a recent survey indicated that fall enrollment numbers are the most pressing issue in light of the pandemic. Many colleges are considering making classes fully remote for fall while others are considering a hybrid of in-person and remote options. Read below to find the measures universities are taking to ensure classes will continue this fall.

Fully Remote Options

Most universities began conducting classes remotely in the middle of the spring semester. Many colleges have announced plans to continue this plan of action for the fall semester. For example, California State University, Fullerton, was one of the first universities to announce their intention to conduct fall classes entirely online.  For many programs, including the accounting program, remote education works well because the curriculum can be easily adapted to be taught online by accounting professor(s). Other classes, such as dance or music, are much more difficult to teach in an online environment.  Additionally, McGill University in Montreal, one of Canada’s most renowned universities, announced it will offer mostly online classes in September.

With virtual classes, most universities expect that students will remain at home. However, some colleges are exploring options to help students find alternate options for Wi-Fi access to take classes. Other accommodations may need to be made, depending on student needs. In a research survey, 32% of students reported they are more likely to look for a school with better online capabilities if their school opts for online learning in the fall.  Additionally, 83% of students would expect a tuition reduction and 25% would expect better career service resources.

Delayed Start Date

Delaying the start of the semester would allow universities to navigate the ongoing health situation and reopen when and if the situation improves. One option would be to delay the start date by a month or two. Another option is to cancel the fall semester and start classes in January. In this case, fall classes would be conducted during the spring semester and students would potentially be able to take spring classes during the summer semester of 2021.

In April, Boston University was the first major university to announce they were considering postponing classes until January 2021. One disadvantage to postponing or canceling the semester is deciding what students will do during the downtime. Some students depend on financial aid and on-campus housing during school — two resources that would not be available in the event of a delayed start.

Hybrid Education Model

A hybrid model consists of a combination of online and in-person classes. This may be a good option for students with a limited number of classrooms. New guidelines require social distancing measures in classrooms, which could be an issue for colleges with higher enrollment numbers.  Virginia Tech, located in Blacksburg, Virginia, has announced plans to implement a hybrid education model for fall 2020.

Shortened Semester Blocks 

Universities that have block semesters schedule courses differently than colleges that follow the traditional semester time schedule. With the block system, students take one course for a shorter period of time, which is generally four to five weeks in length. Considering the current restrictions placed on universities, this would decrease the number of individual students exposed because they are only taking one class.

Colorado College, a small liberal arts university near Denver, has followed the block semester for over five decades and will continue the model this fall. The model has been generally successful because it allows students the opportunity to focus on one course at a time rather than dividing attention between multiple courses.

It’s a new world and higher education institutions have challenging roads ahead of them. The good news is that if universities are able to become and remain agile in their approach of educating students in new ways, students will learn to successfully adapt.

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