College campuses, from large state schools to Ivy League institutions, are closing to prevent the spread of the now-pandemic coronavirus. The cancellations have centered around states and regions with the largest number of reported cases whether they are connected to the universities or not. Some universities with large student populations, like Ohio State University which has more than 60,000 students enrolled, are moving to online classes even though there are currently only three confirmed cases in the state. The overarching messaging from closing schools is one of caution, prevention, and keeping the health of their students and faculty at the forefront of their priorities, though these rapid school closures still leave a lot of questions unanswered.
Closures began in Washington state, which currently has one of the highest number of cases in the country, and now includes Harvard University, Columbia University, Princeton University, University of California in Berkeley, Seattle University, and many others. Currently, more than half a million students are affected by the cancellations, reports CNN. “The best time to put in place policies to slow the spread of the virus is now, before we begin to see cases on our campus, rather than later,” Prince University President Chris Eisgruber told students in a statement.
Many universities are taking spring break as an opportunity to send everyone home while they transition to online, remote learning alternatives for spring term. How each school is choosing to handle the situation varies. Some are closing campuses entirely while others are allowing students to remain on campus, cancelling large gatherings and advising them to practice social distancing. So, what exactly does this mean for colleges and college students? Ahead, we've rounded up answers to overwhelming questions about the sudden college closures.
Are colleges cancelling spring semester due to coronavirus?
So far, no school has announced that they are cancelling spring semester entirely. Many, if they are adjusting their semester plans at all, are closing campuses – some entirely while some only in part – and switching to remote learning. Seattle University, in the midst of one of the largest outbreaks in the U.S. so far, announced that while the majority of classes will be transferred to online platforms, its School of Law is suspending classes until further notice. As no one connected to the university has reported symptoms, its campus will remain open with regular updates as to whether that will change in the near future.
What will happen to student housing during coronavirus?
Despite many colleges opting for online classes, only some of them have closed their campuses altogether. The majority of campuses are sticking to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and remaining open in order to offer amenities such as housing and meals to students. Whether or not the coronavirus has spread to that area or not, the CDC is advising colleges to take extra precautions now ranging from the promotion of basic hygiene, increasing their cleaning protocol, or updating their emergency operations plans for what they would do in the event that campuses would need to completely close down. If a case is identified, the CDC is recommending at least temporary class suspension.
How are students being asked to prepare for the coronavirus spread?
Students are being reminded to be vigilant about basic hygiene and best practices for minimizing the spread of diseases by avoiding touching their faces and covering all coughs and sneezes. Social distancing — avoiding crowded places or densely populated areas — has become a popular term in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Part of social distancing on college campuses is moving in-person classes online in addition to sporting events or other on-campus social activities.
Some students traveling for spring break are being told to not return to campus for 14 days after traveling. At Purdue University in Indiana, students who left for the break are being asked not to return. The same goes for Harvard University — their campus has not completely closed, but students are being asked not to return after the break regardless of travel. Others are preparing students for the possibility that they might have to complete coursework off-campus.
What happens to students who are studying abroad?
The U.S. Department of Education instructed financial aid administrators to “use professional judgment to make adjustments on a case-by-case basis” for financial aid eligibility and amounts for students who are affected whether that be because they are ill or quarantined, must be recalled from study abroad programs, or can no longer participate in internships or clinical rotations.
Many universities are suspending study abroad programs in the most affected countries such as Italy, China, and South Korea. There are more than 1 million international students attending U.S. universities, reports CNN. One-third of them are from China, and likely unable to return home. Some international students were outside of the country and the time of the outbreak. More than 830 international students from China were in China when the coronavirus outbreak occurred. They have not been able to return to the United States, according to a university survey released on March 5. Others have not been able to go back to their home countries for fear of not being allowed to return to school.
What campus facilities will stay open during coronavirus?
For now, many colleges are keeping campus housing open while they transition to online classes. Dining halls are also open. Many schools are strongly encouraging students to consider staying home but aren’t officially shutting down campus facilities. Some schools, like Stanford University, are cancelling guided tours for prospective students and their families; however, self-guided tours are still permitted. For the most part, colleges are taking it day by day and are opting to be overly cautious rather than wait until the virus begins to spread on campus.