Published on November 23, 2020
- As the pandemic rages on, colleges are reporting spikes in COVID-19 cases.
- Many campuses that reopened this fall have had to switch to online learning.
- The New York Times reports there have been over 321,000 cases on college campuses.
- Americans are divided about whether colleges should have reopened this fall.
As Americans adjust to a new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus continues to spread at a record rate. In mid-November, the total number of coronavirus cases reached 11 million in the U.S., after the number of confirmed cases in one day hit a record 184,000.
Cases have also accelerated on college campuses. As of November 19, the total number of college students with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic has swelled to over 320,000, according to The New York Times. At least 80 students have died.
People in every sector have had to get used to new health and safety measures without pausing life. For colleges and universities, where young people traditionally gather in classrooms and libraries during the day and dorms at night, campuses are prime locations for the virus to spread — especially through young people who may be asymptomatic but contagious.
When colleges resumed classes in August, CDC recorded a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in young adults.
Studies show that college campuses could be breeding grounds for so-called "superspreaders." When colleges resumed classes in August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in young adults. Nationwide, confirmed cases rose a staggering 55% between August 2 and September 5. In the Northeast and Midwest, they climbed 144% and 123%, respectively.
"Although at lower risk for severe disease, some young adults experience serious illness, and asymptomatic or mild cases can result in … myocardial inflammation," the CDC report stated.
Though they're less likely to have serious complications, some college students have died after contracting COVID-19. In October, a 20-year-old Grace College student and an 18-year-old University of Dayton freshman died due to complications from the virus. In September, a 19-year-old physical therapy student at Appalachian State University came down with the virus and died a few weeks after showing symptoms.
College Coronavirus Cases Continue to Rise
As of November 5, the states with the highest rates of COVID-19 on college campuses were North Dakota (5%), South Carolina (4%), and Wyoming (4%). Although only about 3,000 total students in North Dakota have contracted the virus so far, the state has the highest percentage of COVID-19 cases on college campuses. (Most states have rates ranging from 1-2%.)
The following visualization shows the number of confirmed coronavirus cases on campuses in each state, as well as the percentage of college students in that state who have been infected.
COVID-19 Cases on U.S. College Campuses:
Total Number of Students Infected
COVID-19 Cases on U.S. College Campuses:
Percentage of Students Infected
Sources: NCES, The New York Times
3 Ways Colleges Are Trying to Curb the Spread of COVID-19
Push All Learning Online
Many colleges have decided to forego on-campus classes altogether this term — and, for some, the entire academic year — due to concerns about how the virus may spread through groups of students in enclosed spaces, even with the protection of masks and hand sanitizer.
Some colleges switched to remote learning after struggling to contain the virus.
Some institutions, like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, decided to hold classes entirely online from the start of the semester, whereas others switched to remote learning after struggling to contain the virus on campus. The University of Missouri, which has held in-person courses since the beginning of fall, recently announced its plans to shift to online learning post-Thanksgiving following a local surge in COVID-19 cases.
Although college students largely prefer on-campus learning, according to a survey by Top Hat, the majority also say their professors make an effort to actively engage them in the online learning experience. The study found the following:
- Over two-thirds (68%) of students said they were not learning effectively online
- More than half (54%) of students were concerned about not passing the fall semester
- Nearly 6 in 10 students said their instructors made a concerted effort to create a sense of community within the classroom
Students in classrooms in which professors tried hard to create a dynamic learning environment through remote learning were more likely to want to return to school in the spring. Additionally, students who felt more connected to their classmates and professors reported being more likely to stick with school the following term.
Reopen Campuses With Restrictions
Despite a number of colleges moving to distance learning, many campuses chose to reopen this fall, resulting in millions of students around the country going back to class in person. Those colleges have implemented rules requiring face masks and social distancing while limiting social gatherings; however, not all students have been eager to follow these rules.
In August, The Ohio State University suspended more than 200 students — before fall-term classes even began — after they hosted or attended parties without social distancing or wearing face masks.
Meanwhile, Syracuse University suspended at least 23 students who engaged in "incredibly reckless behavior" on campus, according to a statement from the school. St. Olaf College in Minnesota similarly suspended 17 students who attended a party where at least one attendee had tested positive for COVID-19.
And in Pittsburgh, Duquesne University suspended all Greek life activity because of "repeated and egregious" violations of COVID-19 health and safety measures.
Some students are protesting the harsh punishments for breaking colleges’ COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.
Some students are protesting these punishments. Two Miami University students filed a lawsuit against the school after being suspended for hosting an off-campus party. The students claim the university used "erroneous" information to hand down their suspensions.
Even some politicians think the consequences for breaking schools' COVID-19 health and safety guidelines are too harsh. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suggested creating a bill of protections for college students caught partying during the pandemic, claiming that suspending students would be "incredibly draconian."
"That's what college kids do," said DeSantis on September 24. Just a few days later, police broke up a party with more than 1,000 people — many of whom were college students — near Florida State University.
Houston's Rice University has taken a somewhat unusual approach to monitoring and enforcing COVID-19 safety rules: a student court through which students investigate incidents of COVID-19 rule-breaking. The court gathers evidence and listens to students' defenses. If found guilty, students could be forced to write apology letters or essays on public health, perform community service, meet with an advisor, or pay a $75 fine.
Cancel Sports or Require Regular Testing for Student-Athletes
Many colleges have canceled their fall sports seasons entirely, whereas others are proceeding as scheduled but requiring student-athletes to take COVID-19 tests before playing.
This testing strategy is not foolproof, however. CDC reported that soccer players in Chicago — who had all tested negative when the season started in the summer — were still able to spread the virus due to unsanctioned social gatherings.
Americans Are Split on Whether Colleges Should Reopen
Americans are pretty evenly split about colleges' decisions to return to campus, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. In this study, 48% of respondents thought universities that had chosen to reopen shouldn't have done so, while 50% believed colleges were right to bring students back to campus.
These numbers, as shown below, were largely partisan:
|Colleges Were Right to Reopen||29%||74%|
|Colleges Should Not Have Reopened||68%||25%|
In terms of the quality of online education versus in-person education, 68% of respondents believed online education doesn't offer the same value as on-campus learning, whereas 30% viewed the two as more or less equal.
Those who disagreed with colleges' return to in-person classes were arguably the more vocal group, with many holding protests and demonstrations against schools' decisions to reopen. One University of Florida student even dressed as the Grim Reaper to protest the institution's reopening plan. Students and faculty joined the demonstration, with one professor calling the school's decision to resume in-person instruction politically motivated.
Around the same time, Dr. Gary Wilson, a professor at Dominican University, quit his job to protest the pressure to work during the pandemic. "I told them I'm resigning because this is an unsafe workplace," said Wilson. "All you need is one person to infect everyone."
Feature Image: Melissa Sue Gerrits / Stringer / Getty Images News / Getty Images North America