Since about mid-March, universities across the state have closed their campuses in accordance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Thousands of college students in Arkansas have been forced to complete their spring classes through online programs.
While the online environment may have been manageable for the few remaining weeks of the spring semester, the question remains whether or not remote learning will have to continue through the fall if the threat of the virus prevents the return to in-person classes.
Almost all universities in the nation have opted to move summer courses to online.
For most schools, it is too early to know whether or not it will be safe to return to campus for the fall and administrators continue to await guidance from state and national leaders and health officials. Regardless, the University of Arkansas hopes that they can welcome students back to campus.
“While it is too early to predict the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, any decision about fall classes will be made as soon as possible to ensure our students have time to plan and prepare for fall classes – whether they are held on campus or remotely,” said U of A Executive Director of Strategic Communications Amy Schlesing.
Schlesing said the university’s COVID-19 Response Team and Communicable Diseases Committee is “coordinating activities designed to support our community’s health and wellbeing and develop plans to minimize the impact to teaching and learning.”
The University of Arkansas Little Rock is also uncertain about the return.
“UA Little Rock has not made a decision regarding the fall semester,” said UALR News Director Angie Faller.
If anything, the universities have more time to craft a plan in the event that the virus forces them back to online classes versus the quick, last-minute transition that many administrators were faced with producing earlier this year. This could lead to the consideration of a hybrid approach as well.
In a recent Faculty Senate meeting, UCA President Houston Davis said he is keeping an eye on the prediction for the peak to help him make a decision about whether or not classes will return to campus. However, if they do return to campus and the virus spikes again, causing UCA to pivot back to an online format, Davis said they are planning for flexibility and learning from the approach they took this spring to make a hybrid approach more feasible.
While not necessarily in Arkansas, some northern U.S. universities have entertained the idea of a later start date for the semester, such as January 2021.
On April 15, CNN reported that Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and visiting scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the virus could have effects on closures into 2022.
“I think colleges should all definitely make plans for delaying start dates and for intermittent closings and reopenings, because epidemiology modeling suggests we may have to go into open and close waves until potentially even 2022,” he said.