In recent weeks, colleges and universities have released plans for the upcoming fall semester and from the pace of the COVID-19 pandemic, local higher-education students foresee another abnormal semester.
Arizona State University announced that face coverings are required in university buildings and places on campus where social distancing is not possible, effective immediately.
ASU senior Chris Laine said that in addition to mandatory masks, dining halls will be take-out style and classes will be half in-person, half-online.
Similar protocols have been laid out for University of Arizona students, including mandatory face coverings, but still maintaining the option of an on-campus experience.
But UArizona President Robert Robbins said last week he might not reopen the campus this fall if the number of coronavirus cases keeps rising as it has been for the last few weeks.
“If I had to say today, would we open? No,” Robbins said.
Desert Vista High School grad and UArizona sophomore Caitlyn Jodon is not certain what her fall will look like.
“It was disappointing for my freshman year to be cut short and will be even more so if campus does not open up in the fall, Jodon said. “However, I appreciate all the efforts to hopefully prevent that and I completely understand the need for caution.”
Returning home halfway through the semester created a variety of challenges for students.
Alison Robinson, also a rising sophomore at Uarizona, recalled what it felt like returning home after less than a year of college, putting into words what lots of her peers experienced.
“To be humorous during such a difficult time, I think the hardest part for college students was coming back home and living with their family so soon, which can be difficult after months of parental freedom,” Robinson said.
For Alex Silver, a student at University of Washington, coming back home meant another challenge.
“I think it’s fair to say that the pandemic is especially challenging for college students who are out of state,” he said. “It is hard to make new friends in a new state and then leave them at the drop of a hat.”
Schools across the country created online curriculums by recording lectures on platforms such as Zoom, utilizing online discussion boards, assignment drop boxes and digital exams that open for a specified block of time.
Some exams became open-note or even open-book, giving students a cushion that they didn’t have in the classroom.
But particularly in the sciences, students experienced lab scenarios that could not be sufficiently simulated online.
“I am a biochemistry major, so I have some classes that are 100 percent lab with no lecture or class component whatsoever,” Silver explained.
“I had a class this quarter where the entire curriculum was to identify the molecular identity of three unknown solids using chemical tests and various spectroscopy techniques. Since I don’t have an $800,000 magnetic resonance spectrometer just casually in my bedroom, you can see how an organic chemistry lab class would not transition well to an online format,” says Silver.
Jodon shared similar circumstances, explaining, “This past semester, I was taking an anatomy class when the university transitioned to online. This was definitely the most intense class I took last year and my learning was negatively affected by the transition.
“I missed out on several dissections,” she said, that included a sheep’s brain and cow’s eye. “I was looking forward to that. That would have really reinforced the material.”
Other hiccups faced by students included professors’ unfamiliarity with technology or new software, although students hope that if classes remain online, they’ll run smoother because professors will have practiced and reworked their syllabi.
As it stands, many returning students plan to enroll this semester despite the unknown, explaining that they want to move forward in getting their degree and finishing school on time.
But for recent high school grads, a Junior Achievement survey suggests the incoming Class of 2024 may be rethinking their plans.
“Nearly half of teens have stated that the pandemic has changed their plans for after high school,” the survey found. “Of those whose plans have changed, more than a third (36 percent) responded that they will now work while nearly as many (32 percent) expect to delay their start date for college.”
But Mason Krug, who graduated this spring from Desert Vista, still plans to attend UCLA this fall despite some reservations about what his first year of college will be like.
“I expected people to be buzzing to and from clubs and classes, with people meeting for lunch and studying happening everywhere, but I fear that most of this will not happen my first year,” Krug said.
“I am concerned that many clubs and Greek life will be unavailable to me my freshman year. As this was such a big part of my idea of college, I am becoming increasingly nervous,” he added.
A few schools across the country announced that the freshman and senior classes will be the only ones returning to campus while the others will continue online, allowing for more social distancing on campus, as well as a better ratio of available health resources per student.
Other schools have stated that all students will remain online this semester and some have not released any plans at all, continuing to delay course registration and housing selection.
In any case, students – and probably parents too – eagerly await the time when “parental freedom” is possible and safe again.