As the state considers a plan for reopening following COVID-19, Oregon’s universities are too.
Universities are in the middle of a completely online spring term, with most students learning from home. But this week, schools across Oregon announced their intentions to return to in-person classes this fall.
George Fox University in Portland announced its plan with a video. Photos of campus life flash on the screen along with text that reads, "This is who we are at George Fox University, and this is why we plan to open our campus this fall."
“We wanted to make our intentions known that it was our plan to come and offer classes in-person,” said Rob Felton, Director of Executive Communication for George Fox University.
The university has put together seven staff groups to figure out how to reopen safely at different angles.
And Oregon’s colleges are working together, creating recommendations to bring to Gov. Kate Brown.
Once Brown gives the all-clear, GFU will begin figuring out specific strategies to deploy on campus – like class size, taking temperatures, and restrictions on residence hall numbers.
Although it’s unclear whether universities will be able to resume in-person operations this fall, Felton said GFU sets a goal by announcing plans for the fall.
“Students want to have an in-person experience,” Felton said. “They want to have that experience of being in a dorm and having late-night discussions, they want to meet with their professor after class. That’s what so much of the traditional undergraduate college experience is about, and to not have that would be disappointing.”
University of Portland and the University of Oregon have also made similar statements this week, as well as universities all over the country.
The announcements coincide with the traditional "decision day" on May 1. That’s usually the deadline for high school seniors to commit to a school and send in their enrollment deposits. This year, that’s changed — with many Oregon universities, including George Fox, pushing that date to June 1 or later.
The University of Oregon had been planning on that May 1 deadline. But in the last two weeks, UO Vice President for Student Services and Enrollment Management Roger Thompson said his office started hearing from students and families wanting more time.
“Our team got together and just thought, it is time to try and bring some stability to an unstable situation,” Johnson said. “The stability we thought we could bring would be to take the pressure off students and families.”
The new deadline is Sept. 1.
A typically stressful time for high school students is made even more stressful by the pandemic. Portland Public Schools guidance counselor Marquita Guzman spoke about her work on OPB's "Think Out Loud".
“There’s a big sense of uncertainty, lots of questions around what post-secondary plans can look like for students. I think they are concerned about potentially going far away for college, and potentially having to do distance learning from home,” Guzman said. “We’re helping kids understand the importance of communicating with colleges that they are interested in or maybe deciding to go to in the fall, and really understanding what that plan is going to look like for each school.”
Oregon's universities released a joint statement earlier this week asking current and future students to contact their school with questions and concerns about how COVID-19 may affect their education.
COVID-19 has also impacted the college recruitment process.
Usually, in April, prospective students would be visiting campus or making their final decisions. Now all of those choices have moved online, with universities offering virtual tours and other ways to experience campus without physically being there.
Looming over all of these decisions and plans is how universities will be able to bear the financial cost of COVID-19, and what it could mean for the future of higher education in Oregon.
In a message to the campus community, the University of Oregon President Michael Schill stressed the importance of a strong freshman class.
“The UO is tuition-dependent; this is no secret,” said Schill in his April 27 message. “For us to be successful over the next few years, we need to get as close to our admissions targets for the class of 2024 and retain as many existing students as possible.”