Despite cautious assurances that most colleges are planning some sort of on-campus teaching this fall, don’t count on it.

I hope I’m wrong. Fortunately, our graduate program decided more than a month ago to be fully online during the fall term. Unlike the abrupt switch from face-to-face to online for the spring term, this decision allows faculty to better plan their online courses. Meanwhile, I’ve heard from several professors at other universities who have been told to plan for on-campus classes. With dramatic increases in COVID-19 cases in her state, one PR prof said she fully anticipates a last-minute switch to online—so she’s building her course to be operational in person or online.

While I remain skeptical about the willingness of Americans to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines, herculean efforts are underway at all universities to provide safer classrooms and dorms than existed four months ago when students were sent home.

During a webinar organized by The Lincoln Forum with co-sponsors Politico and the Union League Club of Chicago, presidents and chancellors from four major Midwestern universities built the case for re-opening colleges this fall. They also confirmed that students will be living in a different world. This requires academia to be nimble and innovative as they redefine how education will be presented. University of Illinois Chancellor Robert Charles Jones confirmed that “hybrid will be the norm for the next few decades.” In other words, a mix of online and in-person classes.

Despite uncertainty regarding teaching modes this fall and in the future, college leaders report that undergraduate enrollment rate remain steady to slightly up for the fall term. They also are in unanimous agreement that new physical standards, such as single-person dorm rooms, classroom redesigns and safety precautions will add a significant financial burden to institutions. Even though some students question whether the new model should still command current or increased tuition fees, don’t count on that happening anytime soon.

Predictably, administrators urged against students taking a gap year as they wait for more clarity in education teaching modes. I agree, especially for students already in college. I have long favored taking a gap year before the freshman year or upon graduation.

You can view the entire webinar free of charge by signing into this Zoom link.

Since it is becoming increasingly apparent that most higher education will have varying levels of online instructions, colleges and educators are working overtime this summer to ensure better experiences than some claim were underwhelming during the spring term. Nobody wants a repeat of survey results from the spring term indicating 75% of students were disappointed with their online courses.

In a New York Times op-ed yesterday, educators had to abruptly shift into online teaching mode during the spring term, but summer break allows us to design more engaging courses for the fall term–whether in-person, hybrid or fully online. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a parent and psychology professor at Northeastern University, proposes a tutorial system that combines online and one-on-one sessions between students and instructors.She notes that such a major shift in higher education can have big payoffs for students, but requires more work for educators.

Clearly, COVID-19 will cause major changes in education design and execution–mostly, good, I predict. Students also can find ways to use these times to develop their networks with classmates, faculty and guest speakers who likely will be more receptive to networking.

Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash