Dr. Clinton Born is an educational practitioner with a distinguished thirty-year career in public schools, where he served as a Superintendent of Schools, Assistant Superintendent, Principal, Assistant Principal, Guidance Counselor, and Teacher. For almost two decades as a Professor in the Graduate Education Program at Franciscan University of Steubenville, he has taught these courses to name a few: School Law School Finance, Advanced School Law II, Business Affairs and Physical Resources, and The Superintendency. In preparation for his lifelong love of education, Dr. Born has a bachelor's degree in Comprehensive Social Studies Education from The Ohio State University, a master's degree in counseling and school administration from Xavier University, and a doctoral degree in school leadership from Ohio University.
Over a year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic brought higher education learning to a screeching halt worldwide and in the United States, creating the most severe global higher education disruption in history. During the spring semester of 2020, more than 1,300 colleges and universities in all 50 states canceled in-person classes and shifted to online-only instruction.
The move to remote classes for instruction prompted concerns about the quality of instruction. Studies warned that academic performance, particularly for students who were already struggling, seriously suffered in online courses. Other research found that up to 20% of college students had issues accessing effective technology, including working laptops and reliable high-speed internet.
Since the start of the pandemic, concerns in the United States over higher education enrollment remained prominent. Due to restrictions, campus visits and admissions testing were both significantly interrupted. Despite adjustments for fall 2020, freshman enrollment at higher education institutions declined by an unprecedented 13.1%.
Campus closures and the move to online learning caused colleges and universities to face a number of unexpected expenses caused by the pandemic, such as issuing refunds to students for room and board, increasing cleaning costs, and growing technology expenses from moving courses online. Due to these expenditures, several colleges and universities announced hiring freezes for faculty and pay cuts or furloughs for staff during the 2020-21 school year.
By fall 2020, many United States’ higher education campuses developed plans to merge social distanced, in-person instruction and online learning. According to reports, 44% of the United States’ higher education institutions developed fully or primarily online instruction, 21% executed a hybrid model (in-person and remote), and 27% offered fully or primarily in-person instruction (Smalley, 2021).
Disruption caused by the pandemic impacted both existing students as well as graduating high school senior’s ability to receive and manage financial aid as well as student loans. The U.S. Congress’s COVID-19 Economic Relief Bill passed in December, 2020 provided significant, temporary relief for most student loan borrowers. Campus closures and limits on in-person gatherings created significant challenges for students. Many students who relied on university housing, dining halls, and other campus resources for support while in school were impacted.
During spring semester of 2021, colleges had more clarity about how to balance student needs and COVID-19 precautions. More institutions instituted in-person instruction than in the fall. Upon reopening school for spring semester, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged students, faculty, and staff to follow all steps to protect themselves and others at all times, including proper use of face masks, social distancing, and hand hygiene. For those campuses returning to in-person instruction, students, faculty, and staff were tested frequently for COVID-19 with quarantine regulations in place for those who tested positive. Last spring, living on campus looked a little different without the standard college roommate. Some colleges offered single dorm rooms only, and others restricted students from visiting other residence halls.
As COVID-19 vaccine eligibility phases expanded to include college-age adults, all 50 states made vaccinations available to all 16 years of age or older by April 19, 2021. Additionally, many institutions of higher education became vaccination sites for their student body with many college students working at the vaccine site (Moody, 2020).
The pandemic disrupted college athletics throughout the 2020-21 season, even as some sports attempted to play amid frequent cancellations. With the reduction in revenue, 26 colleges and universities cut more than 90 sports programs.
From a public health standpoint, there appears to be light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel for the 2021-22 school year. As colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher education grapple with how best to return to campus with some sense of pre-pandemic “normalcy,” the issue of whether to require students receive the COVID-19 vaccine in hopes of a safer return to campus for the fall 2021 semester looms at the forefront.
One of the many hopes among higher education executives is that requiring the vaccination of students might help to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks. Requiring immunization might also permit athletics departments to return to a more regular structure and schedule, especially considering recent CDC guidance that vaccinated people with no COVID-like symptoms do not need to quarantine or be tested following exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
However, if an institution plans to add COVID-19 to its list of required immunizations, school personnel should start by consulting its existing applicable institutional policies and state law. Some states may allow an institution of higher education to add the COVID-19 vaccination to its existing requirements, while others may require another body (the institution’s board, the department of health, or another state administrative agency) to make that determination.
School personnel should also keep an eye on pending legislation. Several states have introduced legislation regarding COVID-19 vaccine mandates in higher education. The intent of this legislation varies from state to state, with some bills aimed at prohibiting schools from requiring COVID-19 vaccination and others aimed at requiring university students be vaccinated as a condition of in-person attendance.
Pandemic disruption to learning is an opportunity to reimagine, revitalize higher education. As higher education institutions in the United States prepare to return to campus, many of the technologies that helped classes to simply survive and sustain continuity during the pandemic may become permanently embedded in educational methods and play a pivotal role in the refinement of practices consistent with an ongoing shift to more student-centered learning. As learning practices continue to evolve, new remote learning and collaboration technologies, in concert with pedagogy, will be critical to enable inclusive, personalized, and engaging hybrid learning experiences and bring students together beyond simple videoconferencing and recording of lectures.
The COVID-19 crisis presents institutions and educators with the opportunity to reimagine how they deliver education, explore new technologies, and address the inequalities the sector may exacerbate.