Colleges Have Been Crushed by COVID-19 . Here’s What They’re Doing Next

Author: Charlie Coxon Published: August 2021

COVID-19 has had a monstrous impact on the working world, leveling entire industries and changing how we view work for the foreseeable future. However, it has also affected the next generation of workers: college and university students. Every college and university has undergone drastic changes as a reaction to the pandemic, these changes shifting how students view their college experience. Now, instead of wild parties and interactive classrooms, many incoming and returning students associate college with boredom, isolation, and video lectures. Now, in the wake of these policy changes, many incoming students have decided to delay their college experience, including a drastic decline of freshman college enrollment of 13.1% in 2020 according to CNBC.

This trend has noticeable financial impacts on colleges. This is magnified by the many schools taking on major investments into online infrastructure, expensive COVID-testing protocols, and eliminating room and board costs for remote students. Now, as a new school year begins, colleges are feeling mounting pressure to get students back on campus to make up for lost revenue. Many colleges are requiring students to vaccinate for COVID-19 before returning to campus and strongly encouraging faculty and staff to do the same. Some schools, like Northeastern University, are contacting students by phone who are late in uploading their vaccination documents. This is a new effort in order to encourage students to both get vaccinated and arrive back to campus with minimal difficulty. This is especially tough given Northeastern’s undergraduate class of about 14,000 students, all of whom are expected to quarantine and social distance within their Boston campus upon arrival.

Though many colleges would like to forget the last year ever happened, given the difficulties of operating a higher learning institution during the pandemic, many students are less quick to forgive their schools for missteps in their policies. Some students, like Angelica Kalsi from Babson College in Wellesley Massachusetts, were disappointed in how their schools handled the movement of students beyond the campus walls. “While I think they were attempting to control the spread of the virus via strong controls on campus”, she said, “they ended up simply relocating a lot of high risk gatherings off campus, where attendance and spread weren’t as easily kept track of.” She also lamented how her school’s inability to punish students for off-campus gatherings led to less-risky activities, like small gatherings within dorms, being punished far more than large, unrestricted parties off-campus.

These feelings of disappointment extend beyond typical college campuses. Danielle Connors (pseudonym) is a full-time graduate conservatory student at the Atlantic Acting School (AAS) in New York City. She relayed her frustration about the lack of communication from her school. “[AAS] wouldn’t update us whenever COVID-19 restrictions changed. My group went in to do a scene and we had to completely re-block it 30 mins before [our performance] because AAS failed to tell us that restrictions had gotten more rigid.” These failures to communicate even had detrimental effects on the international population at AAS. Danielle noted that her school “only told us it was going to be all in-person on the last day of school…all of the international students were scrambling to get visas and trying to get into the country in time for the semester.”

Many colleges are using strategies to entice students to return to campus, like the promise of in-person classes and less strict COVID-19 rules. Some institutions are choosing to buckle down on vaccinations, forcing unvaccinated students to pay for weekly testing. However, getting students back to campus is going to require many universities to make amends for their own institutional failures. There is a crisis of trust amongst the students at higher learning institutions; students do not have confidence in their institutions’ ability to lead them through this crisis. Only time will tell if these schools will take their criticism to heart or if they will continuously forget and ignore the students who are so crucial to their success.