COVID-19 Altering Plans for College Students and Administrations

Lamyah Husain, Contributing Writer

One in six seniors in high school who expected to attend a four-year college before the novel coronavirus outbreak now think they will choose a different path this fall. Three out of five students, though still intending to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program, are worried over their opportunity to enter their first-choice college and whether it makes sense to do so.

The results came from a nationwide study of 487 prospective college students, commissioned by the Art & Science Group, a higher-education consulting firm. The findings include an early glimpse at how the epidemic has affected college expectations for teenagers — and how their aspirations for the near future could shift.

There was increasing fear this spring that the coronavirus could impact admissions decisions for students awaiting responses. Princeton sought to convince applicants that this would not be the case, tweeting: “Please note: The coronavirus outbreak and its effects have no impact on how we evaluate applicants to the University. Every application will receive our full consideration.”

Standardized test sites in most of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East have closed.  Even though the College Board has scheduled two more foreign administrations, one in May and another in August, the reduced access to standardized testing might result in lower international applicants.

On their website, the College Board writes, “[We] have notified higher education institutions and they are also closely monitoring the rapidly evolving coronavirus situation.”

Universities nationwide are doing their hardest to maintain the atmosphere in their communities, and Clark is no exception. The university’s official website notes, “We may be dispersed during these challenging times, but we are still one Clark. We share our community values, sense of humor, love of learning, spirit, and resilience.”

Still, what the future holds has left next year’s first years wondering.  “A university experience is something to be explored and navigated by swimming through challenges and successes (in person),” says Fatima Abbossi..  She adds in dismay, “Things that we look forward to like socializing, learning through one-on-one sessions with your professors, and even just enjoying dorm life can seem bleak right now.”

Shorena Giorgadze, a first-year student at Worcester State University, understands those concerns. “In light of the COVID-19 situation, with great chances of the semester being shifted online, it can be really difficult to form a concrete bond for freshmen students with their university,” she observes.

The Art & Science Group also asked respondents about how COVID-19 might have influenced their thinking about the qualities they seek in a college. Thirty-five percent of students said that campuses “closer to home” were now a more realistic option than their first-choice college. Some said they were considering a less-expensive institution (32 percent), with a “more familiar social network” (22 percent), more rural (12 percent), smaller (15 percent), or “located in a safer area” (10 percent).

Many institutions do not have a definitive answer as to when it will be safe to be back on campus, although this week California State University announced that its multiple campuses will remain closed and will only offer remote learning this fall.

Clark and its peers are left trying to respond to a new normal.  “Our top priority is the health and safety of our faculty, students, staff, and visitors, and Clark is making decisions following the guidance of local, state, national, and international health agencies,” says faculty member Mary-Ellen Boyle.

In a recent letter to its community, the administration of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology outlined its decision-making process of whether to open campus for the fall term. “For MIT, as for every large institution, society’s collective ability to manage the virus will dictate the timetable,” the letter reads.  “Given public health guidance on keeping the campus less densely populated, it seems likely the return will be gradual and done in phases.”

Worcester Polytechnic Institute, meanwhile is extending its horizons.  In an attempt to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, WPI is expanding an existing science and engineering training program in Sub-Saharan Africa to help provide critical medical supplies to address the expected spike of COVID-19 cases.

WPI  Provost Winston (Wole) Soboyejo says, “It is amazing to see how a project, which started with modules in robotics, materials, and 3D printing, has helped to prepare a new generation of trainers from six African countries to work with WPI to now focus on co-creating and scaling-up the distribution of face masks and face shields and innovate with a new ventilator design developed by a WPI professor.”

“This work will impact the lives of people in Massachusetts and Sub-Saharan African countries,” Soboyejo adds.