The fall 2020 semester did not go as planned for most students and many felt that their universities failed them. The spring 2021 semester isn’t looking too promising for them, either.
Some colleges, such as UCLA, will not reopen until an “effective vaccine or advanced therapeutics have been developed and are available to the majority of the UCLA community.” Given that only certain groups of people qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine so far, undergrads and professors at UCLA are unlikely to get it for months.
Other schools, such as New York University, will offer a mix of online and in-person courses when their semester begins in late January. NYU has canceled spring break in 2021 but will add two long weekends and finish the semester on time in May.
Similarly, UNC-Chapel Hill will end classes in mid-May but will start earlier in January. They will have five different “modes of instruction” in the spring, two that are in-person and three that are remote. Appalachian State and UNC-Charlotte also announced a two-week and one-month delay, respectively, for in-person classes. Western Carolina University announced a three-week delay for in-person classes.
Chapel Hill, one week before classes are to start, has already seen a COVID-19 outbreak.
Deans will choose which classes will be in-person, prioritizing freshman classes that are relevant to their majors and senior classes with more discussions and hands-on activities.
Students at Chapel Hill will also be required to have a negative COVID-19 test before returning to campus, and testing will continue through the semester to catch outbreaks. North Carolina State University and all UNC schools will do the same.
No-cost COVID-19 testing will be available to everyone on NC State’s campus for the first three weeks in January. NC State will also keep its spring break and finish exams by May 7, finishing earlier than other schools.
While it is good to see colleges embracing mandatory and regular testing, it is unclear why campus leaders, if they knew the importance of in-person learning and testing, did not attempt regular testing on campus in fall 2020.
As the Martin Center has previously written, universities failed their students last summer. Lackluster and ineffective plans forced hundreds of campuses to shut down and return to remote learning.
Even so, students and staff seem more optimistic about staying on campus during the spring compared to last fall. Hopefully, campus leaders have figured it out for the good of everyone involved.
Megan Zogby is a Martin Center intern.