During a virtual town hall with Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) on May 22, the Lehigh Valley congresswoman said she believes the fall semester will be a “hybrid between online and in-person classes” for 10 of the region’s colleges and universities.
The remarks came following a phone call Wild had earlier on May 22 with the president or deans at East Stroudsburg University, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Moravian College, Cedar Crest College, DeSales University, Muhlenberg College, Northampton Community College, Lehigh Carbon Community College, and Penn State Lehigh Valley.
“All of (the college representatives) seemed to agree that there’s going to be some sort of hybrid version of reopening,” Wild said.
Lehigh has said it would announce a decision for the fall semester on June 15 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and currently has four task forces working to develop scenarios for campus to potentially reopen. All summer courses and research programs will be completed remotely.
Lori Friedman, Lehigh’s media relations director, confirmed President John Simon was on the call earlier in the day with Wild.
“Though no decision has been made, we currently believe that not all of our students will be able to be on campus in August — for example, international students — and we must plan to provide a Lehigh education for both those who can make it back and those that cannot,” Friedman said in an email.
Earlier today, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Lehigh and Northampton counties will join the rest of the state in moving to the “yellow” stage of reopening on June 5. Wolf cited the state’s decreased hospitalizations and declines in new cases as reasons to ease restrictions on businesses. Wolf also announced 17 counties will move to the “green” stage on May 29.
In the yellow phase, remote work must continue where feasible and gatherings of 25 or more are still prohibited. In-person retail and child care facilities will be allowed to open, but restaurants and bars will still be limited to takeout and delivery only.
Across the country and world, institutions of higher education have been faced with the difficult decision with how to handle the fall semester. Some schools have already announced tentative plans — with many having arrived at vastly different conclusions.
The California State University system was the first major institution to announce it will operate largely online this fall semester. Cambridge University announced all lectures would be held virtually until summer 2021, and Ithaca College said it would delay in-person classes until Oct. 5.
Other schools have gone in different directions.
Syracuse University — just one hour away from Ithaca — said it would begin the fall semester earlier in August and conclude in-person activities at Thanksgiving break.
The University of Notre Dame recently announced a similar decision to begin the 2020-21 school year in-person on Aug. 10 — two weeks earlier than its normal fall semester — with the fall semester scheduled to end before the school’s Thanksgiving break. The University of South Carolina announced it will begin a hybrid version of in-person and online classes on Aug. 20, cancel fall break and move to remote instruction following Thanksgiving.
Finances are another part of the equation as schools thread the needle between safety, health and financial viability.
Northwestern University, for instance, announced 250 staff members have been furloughed and a budget shortfall of $90 million due to COVID-19. Rutgers, Penn State and Temple have also all announced tuition freezes for students — something no LVAIC institution would commit to as of April 29.
Lehigh and Lafayette have also both instituted hiring freezes and suspended scheduled salary increases.
“I’m concerned that (schools) are under pressure to plan for summer and fall semesters when we don’t even really know what the world will look like,” Wild said. “So, the crisis has put an incredible financial burden on these schools, and I want to make sure that I take their perspective back to Washington and look for long term fixes.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. cases of coronavirus are nearing 1.6 million and deaths have topped 94,000. Pennsylvania has recorded over 66,000 cases and over 4,600 deaths.