As the spring semester comes to an end, colleges and universities are faced with uncertainty as decisions must be made regarding the upcoming fall semester. In an April survey of 187 two- and four-year college presidents, 34% indicated that they had an uncertain timeline for reopening, while 47% expected to resume the majority of in-person classes. Due to COVID-19’s continued impact on national health, colleges and universities must adapt to how the world has changed and implement policies and procedures to ensure students and faculty remain safe and healthy, if and when they return to campus.
While nearly half of the surveyed college presidents are optimistic about resuming classes on campus in the fall, campus is likely to feel different. According to a recent survey, 10% of college-bound seniors who planned to enroll at a four-year college before the COVID-19 outbreak said they have already made alternative plans, which will lead to a dramatic drop in enrollment of incoming freshmen. At the same time, 85% of returning college students surveyed want to return to campus to complete their degrees.
Reopening Campuses in the Fall
Closing campus and shifting to online learning was a significant but quick process for most colleges and universities. However, reopening campus to normal activity is going to be more difficult. And the American College Health Association (ACHA) released its Considerations for Reopening Institutions of Higher Education in the COVID-19 Era, with an extensive list of guidelines for institutions to consider.
In its considerations for student health services, ACHA’s recommendations include:
- Advising students to make online appointments or call ahead prior to coming to the campus clinic.
- Continuing the utilization of telemedicine visits, particularly for students at higher risk for complications from COVID-19.
- Updating triage protocols to include telehealth options for assessing students.
As campuses consider how best to reopen classrooms, ACHA’s recommendations include:
- Prioritizing in-person instruction for courses that cannot be appropriately measured through virtual classes.
- Implementing a hybrid model of instruction, with remote options available in the event that infections spread or students need to be quarantined.
- Developing a plan for social distancing in the classroom.
- Encouraging faculty-student communication about health and changes in a student’s ability to complete coursework.
With uncertainty about social distancing requirements in the future, colleges will need to address not only class size, but also attendance at athletic and social gatherings. Of the higher education presidents surveyed, only half plan to resume athletic programs in the fall, with similar expectations of reopening dining halls (48%) and residence halls (46%). While athletic events can address the concern of social distancing by not allowing fans to attend games, residence halls and shared communal space will be harder for institutions to maintain social distancing guidelines.
The Possibility that Remote Learning Continues
While many colleges are making plans to reopen to students in the fall, some campuses have already announced that remote learning will continue, or a hybrid model will be used. And the possibility exists for COVID-19 cases to increase as students return to campus, which could lead to difficult decisions like in the spring about whether or not to keep students on campus. Despite all this, students have continued their education through online learning, with 98% of surveyed colleges shifting classes online. And a majority of institutions (69%) have invested in new online learning resources to ensure their students are able to continue classes online, if needed.
According to ACHA, the drastic measures campuses were forced to take because of COVID-19 to maintain social distancing has negatively impacted the mental health of students, with many students experiencing grief, disruption and anxiety related to the changes. As a result, ACHA recommends that institutions make a concerted effort to support telemental health care for enrolled students who are not physically present on campus, in order to provide an accessible venue for emotional support.
The Inside Higher Ed survey of higher education presidents also found that 36% have already invested in additional physical or mental health resources to support students, both on and off campus. And yet, ActiveMinds found that 55% of all students do not know where to go for help for their mental health. As colleges and universities place an added emphasis on student well-being, it’s important that students are aware of where to turn when support is needed.
Virtual Care for Medical and Mental Health Support
Telehealth programs like TimelyMD’s Campus.Health are invaluable resources for universities in need of an immediate resource to provide healthcare for students during COVID-19. With students dispersed across the country, Campus.Health alleviates the complexity of state licensure, technology compliance and other regulations that campus healthcare resources may be dealing with while trying to transition to virtual care. And as students return to campus, a reliable telehealth solution can optimize campus clinics and counseling centers, and provide an option for remote assessment of students.
With its higher education partners, TimelyMD is dedicated to providing medical and mental health care for students whether they are on or off campus. TimelyMD continues to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on higher education in order to best support the health of students across the country.