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Colleges Continue to Change Course for Fall 2020

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When I was in the Navy, I was a crew member aboard an aircraft carrier. We had a full battle group with us: multiple destroyers, destroyer escorts, guided-missile cruisers, frigates, a supply ship and submarines. It was a formidable assemblage. When orders came down instructing our carrier group to change course, we did what we called a “fleet turn.” Our carrier and all its accompanying ships carefully turned, in concert, to a new direction in one huge maneuver. It was like a gigantic piece of choreography with all components acting together. Fleet turns are critical to keeping everything together and staying on course.


Colleges are like battle groups. Changing course for them also requires a massive effort. The “battle” analogy seems appropriate these days because there is an ongoing struggle now at many levels in higher education to simultaneously meet students’ educational needs and remain financially viable while dealing with the threats and uncertainties of COVID-19.

As I noted in a previous article, many colleges at this point have committed to bringing students back to campus this fall. Others won’t and will offer only online courses. There are those proposing hybrid solutions, while still others are waiting to decide. It’s a very mixed bag, and quite frustrating for students and parents.

Administrators Under Pressure

In reviewing the specifics of how colleges are addressing the uncertainties of this unprecedented pandemic, I found their proposed solutions and rationales interesting and want to share some of those plans and contingencies here. For large university systems, and especially underfunded small colleges, making a fleet turn can be a perilous venture. Try to imagine the pressures on administrative leadership as schools deal with this decision. Here are some media reports about that process.

The Washington Post‘s Nick Anderson cautions that College students want answers about fall, but schools may not have them for months:

there are no dates yet for the next academic year. Just scenarios. And that unprecedented uncertainty is ­fueling a second wave of crisis for schools already plunged into financial distress.

Colleges and universities nationwide are gaming out whether, when and how they can reopen campus after the abrupt shutdowns in March. Support from governors is essential but is hardly the only factor. Every prospective and returning student is hanging on the answers.

The possibilities range from a return to normalcy, which few higher education insiders expect at this point, to a fall semester with dorms shuttered and students taking classes from home until at least January

For example, the University of Virginia could start classes on Aug. 25 as scheduled, with students in Charlottesville but under new social distancing restrictions to guard public health. It could delay the semester and plan to open in person some weeks later. Or it could launch the school year without students on campus and teach remotely until circumstances allow a return.

Schools everywhere face variations of these choices. All carry a degree of risk. Opening campuses, whether sooner or later, will require a plan for what to do when someone is found to be a carrier or falls ill with covid-19. “You can’t pretend away the virus,” [UVA president James] Ryan said

Graeme Wood, in The Atlantic, states that There’s No Simple Way to Reopen Universities and asks, “How do you operate institutions designed to mix people and ideas without also mixing viruses?” Great question, one that’s on the mind of students and families everywhere. How do you deal with a virus that is so infectious and “sticky” when the very heart of college education requires close contact of large groups of students with faculty?

Wood reports that “… Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University in Rhode Island, proposed a path to reopening universities in the fall, just in time to welcome students and their tuition back from quarantine. Paxson is an economist, and forthright about why those tuition checks matter: “Remaining closed in the fall means losing as much as half of our revenue,” she writes, and for many colleges, losing half a year’s tuition would mean bankruptcy. The solution, she says, is to “test, trace, separate” — in other words, to do in universities what the United States has failed to do as a country, but what Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea have done with some success

Paxon’s approach, spurred, no doubt, by her public health expertise, proposes to bring all Brown students back to campus this fall but under strict scrutiny. Speaking of financial consequences, her plan to “test, trace and separate” won’t be cheap. She doesn’t specify the exact manner of testing, but if an infection is encountered in a student, faculty member, administrator or general campus employee, the labor-intensive tracking process will be expensive and time-consuming, not to mention the costs associated with meeting the needs of those who are quarantined. Also, such vigilance may add an oppressive pall to Brown’s academic and social atmosphere. Having it both ways — a full-strength fall semester and meticulous COVID-19 monitoring — could increase student costs and deplete school cash reserves.

Student Input May Help

The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s John Villasenor proposes 6 Steps to Prepare for an Online Fall Semester. Here are three of them with some of my own comments:

Survey students now to find out how many would decline to participate in an online-only fall 2020 academic term. Recent surveys have shown that online classes are extremely unpopular among students. This news puts additional pressure on administrators since one prominent option among students facing staying at home again for fall semester is to take a gap year, thus possibly negatively impacting colleges’ yields and further reducing critical revenue.

Rethink large lecture courses if fall instruction is online.If instruction remains online-only in the fall, colleges should rethink the traditional lower-division course model of large, professor-led, twice-weekly, synchronous (i.e., with students participating in real time) lectures accompanied by once-a-week, smaller, TA-led discussion section meetings. When all interactions are online, a better approach would be to ditch the large, synchronous lectures altogether

When it comes to equity, walk the walk. Villasenor asks key questions: Colleges talk a lot about equity. The Covid-19 crisis provides an opportunity to walk the walk. Will colleges be willing to dip into their endowments and boost their financial-aid offerings to help the many students from families with suddenly worsened financial circumstances? Will they avoid mass staff furloughs? Will they provide some sort of financial cushion for contingent faculty, who are the gig workers of higher education and who play such a vital role in educating students? If fall instruction remains online-only, will colleges offer reduced tuition for what is clearly a reduced experience?

Speaking of so-called “hybrid” solutions, University of Maryland, Baltimore County president Freeman Hrabowski discussed his plan in an NPR interview: Colleges Weigh What It Would Take To Reopen Campuses For Fall Semester. Here’s an excerpt:

the campus will be open, as it has been this spring. However, we are still to decide how many of the students will be in the residence halls. We are between 40 and 50 percent residential now. And we are thinking it will be some combination of remote learning and some students on campus, but it’s all up in the air depending on everything from the CDC guidelines to what our governor says to what the system says as we work across all the campuses.

President Hrabowski speaks for many colleges and universities when he appends the specifics of his plan with, … “but it’s all up in the air depending on everything from the CDC guidelines to what our governor says to what the system says as we work across all the campuses …”

It’s the uncertainty factor that’s causing schools so much dislocation at this point. Yes, things may become simpler and more stable as we enter the summer months, but the lead time for implementing plans is long. It takes time to coordinate a change in the movement of a college’s many functions and keep everything on track. It’s the fleet-turn principle on dry land.

If you follow higher education matters or — more importantly — have a personal stake in colleges’ decisions about the Fall 2020 semester, you’ll probably be watching for any signs of commitment, one way or the other. The behavioral unpredictability of COVID-19 will likely keep colleges delicately balanced on the decision-making fence.

Don’t be surprised if schools that may have already committed to being closed this fall do a 180 and open up at least part of their campus operations due to positive news mid-summer from the CDC and other oversight authorities and experts. As I noted last time, keeping a flexible mindset is the key because changing course may be less difficult for some colleges than it is for others.

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By: Dave Berry
Title: Colleges Continue to Change Course for Fall 2020
Sourced From: insights.collegeconfidential.com/will-colleges-open-this-fall
Published Date: Tue, 19 May 2020 13:22:55 +0000

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Why Would A College Say It Has Openings While I’m Stuck on the Waitlist?

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I am a high school senior who has always wanted to go to Rutgers, but they wait-listed me so I committed to Penn State. Today my mom sent me the NACAC list of schools with college openings and Rutgers New Brunswick is on the list. If they are saying they have openings, how can they still keep me on the waitlist? Should I contact them? Should I reapply? Is this list even genuine?


Yep, “The Dean” saw the listing, too, and it does appear that Rutgers has freshman vacancies on three campuses, including the main campus in New Brunswick. There is even financial aid and housing available. This annual NACAC roundup of colleges with openings is totally legit and a good way for students who don’t yet have college choices (or the choices they want) to consider new options.

It may seem a bit odd that you’re moldering on a waitlist and eager to enroll while the university is beating the bushes for additional applicants, although it’s possible that certain academic fields are already full, including the one that you selected. So to confirm this conjecture, I contacted the Rutgers admission office via their handy Live Chat to ask the same question that you did, and I got a speedy reply from Admissions Officer Zachory Huxford. He told me:

“There are a lot of factors that go into coming off of a waitlist, and available seats in a given school is one of them. The waitlist is reviewed on a rolling basis as seats become open in those schools.”

You should email your admission officer at Rutgers, explain that you saw on the NACAC list showing that Rutgers still has freshman vacancies, and proclaim your intention to enroll immediately if accepted off the waitlist. But, because admission officials are all swamped these days, I suggest that you copy your message to [email protected] as well so that it gets the fastest-possible review.

In addition, if you have an alternate choice of “school” within Rutgers besides the one you applied to, you can mention it in your message and formally add it to your application. (Be sure to include an explanation of why this second-fiddle school is of interest to you so that it doesn’t look like you will try to transfer out of it as soon as your duffel bags are unpacked in your dorm room!)

Finally, regardless of what happens with Rutgers, congratulate yourself on already having a very enviable spot at Penn State. This crazy admission process so often ends in a “Meant to Be” way, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first.

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you’d like to submit a question to The Dean, please email us at [email protected]

By: Sally Rubenstone
Title: Why Would A College Say It Has Openings While I’m Stuck on the Waitlist?
Sourced From: insights.collegeconfidential.com/college-openings-list-nacac
Published Date: Wed, 06 May 2020 11:23:29 +0000

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The Significance of Graduation

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Our local paper arrived this morning amid mid-40-degree temperatures, dark skies and a cold drizzle. Just another dreary lockdown day here in Pennsylvania. I was hoping for some good news as I scanned the front-page headlines. No such luck.

These disappointing words spelled out a nearby high school’s plight: “AASD seniors to have virtual ceremony.” Altoona Area School District has decided that seniors from Altoona Area High School will graduate online this year. While Blair County, in which AAHS is located, remains on lockdown, according to Governor Tom Wolf’s guidelines, school board members had to make a decision about graduation since time is growing short and COVID-19 restrictions remain in place.


The process for this virtual graduation is interesting, if not challenging. According to the Altoona Mirror‘s report:

“… The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of this year’s traditional June 5 ceremony at Mansion Park.

At Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, high school Principal Andrew Neely told the board that [521] graduates will do a “Senior Spotlight,” in which seniors, dressed in caps and gowns, will be brought to the school where they individually will walk in front of a video camera, state their name and turn their tassel.

Starting today, seniors will be scheduled to come to the school to pick up their caps and gowns. Neely said the process will follow social distancing guidelines.

“Seniors will be given a date and time to come in for their caps and gowns. Those will be in 20-minute increments,” he said. “They are all going to be required to wear face masks.”

Neely said the senior spotlights will be recorded on May 18 in hour slots, with 25 students per slot. The event will not be broadcast live but will be recorded and edited together with music by the school’s broadcasting teacher Doug Sipes and posted for viewing on June 5.

“It won’t be live, but it will be broadcast on the actual day of what would have been commencement, June 5,” he said. “At that point, Mrs. (Sharon) Bream can declare them graduated as board president.”

I was tempted to call the school to clarify whether or not seniors would be required to wear their masks as they’re recorded turning their tassels, but this is the best Altoona officials can do for the Class of 2020 currently, although there is some hope for a better ceremony:

Neely said if social distancing requirements are relaxed later in the summer, a live commencement will be held 10 a.m. July 25 at the Jaffa Shrine [an indoor venue].

“It’s hard to say what is going to be allowed and what is not going to be allowed,” he said.

If a live commencement is held on July 25, a senior only dance will be held in the Jaffa banquet hall on the same evening.

The Class of 2020 Misses out on Milestones

I empathize with this year’s high school and college seniors. Graduations are very special events that give a firm note of finality to eras of academic life. This got me to wondering about the emotions of others in the Class of 2020. How do they feel about their virus-derailed graduations?

National Public Radio’s Elissa Nadworny investigated this issue from the college perspective in No Caps, No Gowns: For Many In The Class Of 2020, Commencement Is Called Off. News of the changes dictated by the COVID-19 did not land lightly for UVA senior Nathan Stewart when “an email landed in their inboxes: Classes were moving online and graduation was indefinitely postponed.”

“Honestly, my friends and I just immediately started crying,” says Stewart. Throughout his four years at UVA, graduation had been a major motivator. When he and his friends were having tough days, they’d tell each other, “Just wait till graduation day. We’re all walking across the stage together and we’ll get our diplomas. It’ll be so worth it then.”

This is what I meant when I referred to graduation as a note of finality. It’s a capstone of sorts that puts an exclamation mark on all the good and not-so-good times accumulated over the course of a college (or high school) education. Of course, the students aren’t alone in their respective dilemmas. Administrators, like AASD’s mentioned above, are also in a difficult position.

“… Administrators and college presidents are scrambling to figure out what to do about graduation this year. How can they acknowledge students’ hard work and success, while still maintaining social distancing amid the outbreak of coronavirus?

Many colleges across the country have outright cancelled graduations, others, such as Harvard and Miami University in Ohio, have scheduled virtual ceremonies. Some students have taken things into their own hands and created their own ceremonies — on a reconstructed campus — through Minecraft.”

Parents Suffer as Well

Parents obviously have a significant emotional and financial investment in their children’s higher education. One California State University, Los Angeles senior spoke of her parents’ anticipation and disappointment over canceled graduation.

“When they cancelled graduation, it was exactly 60 days prior to our scheduled commencement,” she explains. She knows that because her mother and father kept track, counting down the days, crossing each one off on their calendar. When she told them it was off, her mom cried. “My parents didn’t get to finish high school,” she says, “so for them, seeing their daughter graduating college was just beyond their dreams.”

Opinions vary. In my discussions with seniors and parents within my network, I’ve been surprised by some pragmatic attitudes about canceled or deferred ceremonies. One local family I spoke with was almost relieved that they didn’t have to make the cross-country journey for graduation.

Due to the family’s recent economic circumstances and medical issues, the costs involved for them to attend an on-campus graduation would have been well beyond their budget, although they were willing to make the sacrifice had a traditional graduation been scheduled. The senior-student son was happy that his parents didn’t have to somehow find the finances to make the long journey. He told me that his main concern right now is finding work so that he might be able to help his parents through a difficult time.

This practical attitude is also reflected by one of the students mentioned in Nadworny’s article.

“It’s just a ceremony,” says Alexandrea Mares, who lives with her grandparents and attends California State University, Northridge. Right now, she says she’s far more concerned with keeping herself and her family healthy. “You know what? My health and their health is what matters most,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s the degree that you get and I’m gonna get the degree either way at the end of the semester.”

That’s not to say she isn’t extremely proud of her six-year journey: “Even though we’re not having a graduation, I’m still excited to get my diploma in the mail and hang it up on the wall.”

I received my college diploma in the mail, too, choosing not to attend my college graduation. There was no pandemic back then, but my family’s circumstances dictated that more important priorities ruled. I didn’t regret my decision. Frankly, I would have also chosen not to attend my high school graduation, but I did. I’ve been a “social-distancer,” one way or the other, most of my life, I guess.

There’s an important lesson to be learned from this year’s graduation dislocations, in my view. The lesson is: Real life is not a straight line. Be flexible. Aside from the wisdom and maturity this extraordinary time bestows, it also creates a great cache of stories that today’s seniors can pass on to their grandchildren when they ask, “What did you do during the Great Pandemic?” Now that’s significant.

By: Dave Berry
Title: The Significance of Graduation
Sourced From: insights.collegeconfidential.com/cancelled-graduations-class-of-2020
Published Date: Thu, 07 May 2020 15:58:40 +0000

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How My Marijuana Arrest Impacted My Admissions Journey

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I am someone who always knew I wanted to go away to college, even from a young age. I liked the idea of leaving home, living in a dorm and even eating in the cafeteria. With three older siblings who went to college before me, I saw firsthand the independence they had when they left home, and how happy they seemed on campus. Even when they came home to visit, they were different in a good way. I liked everything about their new outlook after they headed to college, and I definitely expected I would follow in their footsteps.


So I was really excited when I got accepted to my dream school in Chicago, far from my home in North Carolina, but one that was my first choice for a lot of reasons. It had my major, the classes were the right size, I liked that they had a great basketball following and I felt really at home when I visited the campus. I also got some merit scholarships there because I had always been a straight A student and I had a 33 ACT score.

I headed to Chicago in the fall of 2016 and moved into the dorm with a roommate who I’d met on the online admitted students group. He and I got along really well right from the beginning, and our schedules were similar as well (important!) so we got up and went to bed around the same time every day. I liked my classes and my grades were good. Basically, everything was going really well.

When I got back to campus after winter break my freshman year, I went to a small party in someone’s dorm room on campus. There were some kids drinking beer there and some other people smoking pot. I was one of the kids smoking weed near the window of the room. About an hour after the party started, the RA knocked on the door, and we were all busted. Long story short, I had a first infraction on my record, and the school was taking it pretty seriously. I didn’t get kicked out, but I knew I’d have to stay in line with all of the school’s policies if I wanted to stay there (and I did want to stay!)

Continuing My Bad Decisions

Fast forward to a few months later, when I was headed to an off-campus party with some friends at the end of the spring semester. It was a BYOB party and since it was off campus, we didn’t think much of the fact that we picked up some beer and pot on the way there, which we shared with people at the off-campus party. The problem was that when we returned to campus a few hours later, my friend was still holding a cooler that had some beer in it and I still had some weed in my pocket. Just before we walked into my dorm, a security guard came over and asked my friend what was in the cooler. I was asked if I had anything on me and just came clean with the bag of pot in my pocket. I didn’t want to say “nothing” and then get caught during a search.

The amount of pot I was caught with this second time was such that the school thought police should be involved, and at that point, the court became involved as well. Since I was pretty much done with freshman year at that point, I didn’t lose any credits, but I was asked not to return to the university at that point. In other words, I was kicked out. Considering that I had gotten straight A grades while I was there, it was incredibly stupid that I had to leave due to something that was completely in my control, and obviously I have a ton of regrets.

Moving Home

I went back to North Carolina incredibly embarrassed about what happened. My parents weren’t happy and neither was I. I had no one to blame but myself for these stupid issues but I was mad at the world in some ways. My parents reminded me that sending me to my dream school created sacrifices for the whole family, and that I blew it. For the first month or so, I dealt with the legal aspects of my court case back in Illinois (which was much more involved than you’d expect). Without getting into too much detail, I had to spend the next year doing a series of things on a list to get the charges off my record, while also working full time at a local oil change place. I paid many big fines and fees (in the thousands) which essentially wiped out the amount of money I made working during my year at home. Eventually my record was clean and I could go back to college, but this time there were conditions.

My parents wanted me to stay in state, which I understood. Not only would it save them money, but they didn’t want me too far away for other reasons also. However, just because my record was clean didn’t mean I could keep the charges a secret when I applied to college the second time around. My previous college record said why I had to leave the school, and some of the colleges where I was applying to transfer asked if I’d ever been “arrested” — not if I had a record. So with the help of a local college admissions counselor, I wrote a letter explaining what happened, what I learned from it and how I spent my year away from college. I was sincere when I said I did a lot of stupid things during my first stint at college and I don’t want to repeat them (because it’s true).

I was accepted at four of the seven schools where I applied, but I have decided to go to UNC Greensboro as a transfer student because I liked the size and feel of the campus, as well as the opportunities in my major. I am very grateful that this school put the trust in me and believes that I can do better this time around, and I firmly believe I will.

If I have any advice for upcoming college students, it would be to take college more seriously than I did. I’m someone who worked incredibly hard on my grades and then messed up with something so stupid that I still can’t believe it happened. If you think something like this can’t happen to you, maybe you’re right. But if you’re not, it’s a really big price to pay.

About the writer: Alex Taylor is not the writer’s real name, but is a pseudonym he chose to protect his identity. He plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Greensboro this fall as a transfer student.

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If you’d like to share details of your admissions journey on College Confidential, please email us at [email protected]

By: Alex Taylor
Title: How My Marijuana Arrest Impacted My Admissions Journey
Sourced From: insights.collegeconfidential.com/how-my-marijuana-arrest-impacted-my-admissions-journey
Published Date: Thu, 07 May 2020 15:31:51 +0000

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