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Reporting on the state of education in your community and across the country.

Local Universities Look Beyond Spring Semester For Coronavirus Response

Northeast Ohio colleges and universities are looking past the current semester when it comes to classes and programming in the shadow of the coronavirus. [Kent State University]
archway on the edge of Kent State University's campus with the School of Architecture in the background

Virtually all higher education classes in Northeast Ohio are being taught remotely through the end of the spring 2020 semester to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

But with Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton pointing to the coronavirus outbreak peaking in early to mid-May, higher education is trying to plan ahead. 

And college administrators are even looking beyond this semester when it comes to classes and programming.

Kent State University decided to move all its early summer sessions online and will soon determine whether the classes in late summer will be taught remotely as well. Summer international study abroad or domestic study away programs have been cancelled altogether.

Melody Tankersley, interim vice president and provost for Kent State, said the administration had to make many tough decisions in order to give the teaching staff and students fair warning.  

“Right now is the time where people would be making down payments on housing, booking those flights, making arrangements,” Tankersley said. “So we knew that we needed to make a decision because our students and their families needed to make decisions.”

Cleveland State University also cancelled summer study abroad programs and will teach early summer classes remotely.

Dealing a huge blow to undergraduate seniors and grad students wrapping up their programs, spring commencement ceremonies in the region have been postponed or moved online for virtual ceremonies.

At Oberlin College, administrators are mulling over options for holding an in-person event, one being a joint commencement ceremony held in May of 2021 for this year’s and next year’s graduates.

Thinking Beyond The 2020 Semester

With high school students getting college acceptance letters or starting the application process, universities and community colleges have had to readjust quickly.

Now would be the time when students might be going on campus tours, envisioning whether they can see themselves at that particular school. Instead, many colleges are providing virtual tours online and connecting prospective students with current ones to share their experiences.  

For high school juniors who are starting the application process, schools including Kent and Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) are making standardized test scores optional for the 2021-2022 school year, because most ACT and SAT test dates have been postponed.  

Rick Bischoff, vice president of enrollment management at CWRU, also said the admissions office there is taking into consideration the fact that the pandemic is impacting high school students’ extracurricular activities – among other admissions factors.

“Suddenly, the student who would have been maybe a four-sport athlete or who would have been in the spring musical, they can't do that thing,” said Bischoff. “And it's unrealistic of us to expect students to do that.” 

As higher education administrators look forward into the next academic year, schools are also continuing to take steps in the coronavirus response now.

Doctors, nurses and healthcare workers are having conversations with their families about what will happen if they end up in the middle of the COVID response, particularly if the number of infections escalates. Would they be able to go home or would they be forced to lodge elsewhere?

CWRU has been asked to ready to potentially house those healthcare workers, including the University Hospital doctors, nurses and staff who might be working with coronavirus patients in the ICU. Cleveland State has also been approached for possible healthcare worker housing and is readying Fenn Tower, a 22-story Downtown Cleveland residence hall that usually houses more than 400 students.

Jenny Hamel is the host of the “Sound of Ideas.”