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As the coronavirus spreads, its effects are being felt on college campuses across the U.S. and around the world.  The following are examples of recent actions taken by a handful of colleges.

Many American colleges have cancelled study abroad programs in Italy, China, and South Korea, pulling students out of these countries.  In some cases, students are being quarantined upon their return to the U.S.

On March 3, Rice University announced it was cancelling all university-sponsored international spring break trips, not just those to countries with high numbers of infected individuals.  Then, on March 5, the university reported that an employee had tested positive for the virus, and on March 8, Rice cancelled classes for this week.

Last week, the University of Washington (UW), Seattle University, and Stanford announced that all classes would be held online from March 9 through the end of the quarter, which for all three schools is on March 20.  (UW’s decision applies to all three of its campuses, which serve a total of 50,000 students.)  A UW employee had tested positive for the virus, and two students at Stanford were in self-isolation after possible exposure.  There have not been any confirmed cases at Seattle University.

This past weekend, after a “member of the community” at Columbia University was quarantined due to exposure to the coronavirus, the university cancelled classes on March 9 and 10 and is holding classes online for the remainder of the week.

Many colleges are rethinking their programs for admitted students, which are typically held in April.  Schools such as Harvard, MIT, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, and Stevens Institute of Technology have cancelled such programs and are offering them virtually instead.

Several of my students and their parents are reconsidering spring break college visits.  Even if families proceed with their travel plans, they may not be able to visit schools as intended, as some are cancelling tours and information sessions.  Stanford has cancelled these events until at least April 15, MIT has cancelled them through May 15, and Harvard has cancelled tours until further notice.

For college students who are getting ready for spring break, some universities have imposed travel restrictions and have warned students that if they go to the restricted countries, they will have to self-isolate upon their return.  For example, Duke University’s website states, “IF YOU TRAVEL TO CHINA, IRAN, ITALY, OR SOUTH KOREA (LEVEL 3) OR JAPAN (LEVEL 2), OR ANY OTHER COUNTRY THAT SHIFTS TO A CDC LEVEL 2 DESIGNATION OR HIGHER WHILE YOU ARE ABROAD, YOU MUST SELF-ISOLATE FOR 14 DAYS OFF CAMPUS BEFORE YOU CAN RETURN TO DUKE’S CAMPUS.”

On March 10, Harvard instructed students not to return to campus after spring break, which starts this weekend.  It will begin virtual instruction on Monday, March 23.  Colorado College (CC) did the same, after our governor declared a state of emergency here.  The college has extended its spring break, which starts March 12, to March 29, and students have been told to remain off campus after that.  The college operates on a block schedule, where students take one course at a time for 3 1/2 weeks, and the block that will begin after break will be taught online.  CC has not yet decided if students will be allowed to return to campus for the last block of the school year.

On March 11, the University of Colorado, Boulder announced that starting next week, all classes will be conducted virtually for the rest of the semester.  To my knowledge, no other Colorado colleges have made such a decision, but many are exploring that online instruction in case they deem it necessary.

Admissions offices are worried that international students, especially those from China, will enroll in U.S. colleges at a significantly lower rate next fall and that those who do may not be able to travel here to start classes on time.  At the University of Florida, students who can’t make it to campus for the start of the school year will be offered a spot in the university’s online program, through which they can earn up to 60 credits and then transfer to an on-campus program.

In the last couple weeks, I’ve been perusing many colleges’ websites as I do research to make college lists for my students.  It seems like every college’s homepage has a prominently featured link to information about the coronavirus and that school’s response to it.

Obviously, colleges have taken many of the aforementioned steps out of an abundance of caution and to limit their liability.  While I am certainly not a medical or public health professional, the effectiveness of some of these decisions seems questionable to me.  For example, although in-person classes at the University of Washington have been cancelled, the university’s facilities remain open, including residence halls, and athletic events are proceeding as scheduled.  As anyone who’s ever lived in a college dorm will tell you, those places are rampant with illnesses.  Avoiding sitting next to a sick person in class is pointless if you’re sharing a room with them.

Furthermore, are students less likely to enroll in a college if they are unable to attend an admitted students event because it was cancelled?  I would imagine so, especially if a student hasn’t already visited the campus.

As the situation with the coronavirus develops, it’s anyone’s guess as to how colleges will continue to respond.  Please check individual schools’ websites for updates, especially if you are planning to visit.

For those of you who are going ahead with spring break travel plans, have fun and stay healthy!