What to expect of the university experience in the 2021-2022 academic year

If we’ve learned one thing from the past year, it’s that students and educators alike are adaptable and ready to embrace the unexpected. That doesn’t make it fun, but we make the most out of the challenges before us. Despite being in the midst of the worst COVID surge so far, vaccines and rapid testing mean that a return to normal is within reach. But we’re not there yet. Here are some changes to expect in the fall as you head off to college.

An end to remote learning?

New York University researchers released the results of a survey of college students that measured their experiences throughout the pandemic. The overwhelming conclusion was displeasure and anxiety towards remote learning, but students responded with higher satisfaction as the pandemic continued. Remote learning lacks the social environment of the traditional college experience, so it came as no surprise when enrollment dropped as classes shifted to remote-only learning. But it’s a new year and most agree that most schools will return to the classroom setting in 2021. Some university systems are beginning to announce their intentions to return to primarily in-person classes beginning with the fall 2021 semester. On January 11, the University of California announced plans for in-person instruction, citing the expected availability of vaccines for all students and staff. Harvard plans to remain remote through June 2021, but in-person learning is a strong possibility for the fall semester. We expect that remote learning will remain an option for many classes in 2021-2022, but in-person learning will return to all campuses. 

Vaccines hold the future in balance

Although we are still several months from the start of the 2021-2022 academic year, universities are making it clear that the extent of re-opening depends on when COVID vaccines are available to all. The incoming government has announced a plan for the distribution of 100 million doses by May. By fall 2021, it is possible that some colleges may require vaccination. The American College Health Association has been offering guidance to university leadership throughout the pandemic, but they’ve yet to issue a statement regarding the possibility of mandatory vaccinations. Campus leaders are not sure if universities have the authority to mandate vaccination, and some hope that state governments will make a decision to settle the issue across the board. 

Less uncertainty remains with regards to COVID testing. Outbreaks in the spring and fall 2020 semesters were often made worse by community spread on college campuses. Since then, all major universities have established rapid testing facilities. On-site testing is expected to remain a feature on campuses for at least the next academic year. Once it becomes more clear whether or not enough vaccines will be available in time for fall 2021, decisions will be made within each university system. Check university COVID information pages for the latest guidance.

Be on the lookout for tuition discounts

More and more universities are announcing discounted tuition for the fall semester. This comes after decades of tuition costs rising faster than the rate of inflation. Enrollment plummeted at many schools, causing administrators to reflect on the economic burden of college for many families. It seems that COVID broke the cycle of tuition hikes. 

Here are examples of announced tuition discounts for the fall 2021 semester:

  • Southern New Hampshire University (-50%)
  • Thomas University (-30%)
  • University of Illinois (-25%)
  • Fairleigh Dickinson University (-25%)
  • National University (-25%)
  • Rider University (-22%)
  • Williams College (-15%)
  • Princeton University (-10%)
  • Georgetown University (-10%)
  • Rowan University (-10%)

It is possible that more schools will announce discounts, so check with your prospective universities often!

Life on campus

Housing plans are adjusted across the board to allow for social distancing. Brown University now has reduced density that allows for single-occupancy rooms. Another common adjustment is the designation of ‘pods’, or isolated groups within student housing. This reduces the impact of mandatory quarantine if an outbreak occurs. 

Plan to get tested for COVID. The University of North Carolina system is enforcing re-entry COVID testing in an effort to stop the spread as in-person classes resume. Students have to test negative to return to campus housing and classrooms. The University of Florida is enacting mandatory testing every two weeks. These are just examples of the many schools using testing as a way of reducing disease transmission. Even with the vaccine rollout, COVID testing will remain an essential tool for ending this pandemic.

The phase-out of pass/fail

During the spring and fall 2020 semesters, many schools graded on a pass/fail system due to rapidly changing standards and learning environments in the pandemic. The pass/fail system leaves students with two grade possibilities, either passing or failing. It also complicates GPAs. Although some students have hoped pass/fail would stick around longer, universities are making it clear that as instruction gets back to normal, so will grading. Many have returned to normal grading for spring 2021, and all are expected to resume A through F grades by the fall. Check with your university for the latest information. 

What happens over the next few months will shape the university experience for 2021-2022. Here at Hawk Educational Solutions, we’ll keep you updated as more information becomes available.

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