The American Council on Education estimated the nation’s higher education industry sustained pandemic losses in the neighborhood of $120 billion. Recently revised information from the Chronicle of Higher Education says that loss is closer to $183 billion. Colleges and universities desperately need students to return to campus — the sooner the better.
Several media outlets have discussed what a return to in-person instruction might look like. Forbes magazine published a list of conditions most institutions will follow to determine what their in-person classes will look like:
- “A downward trend in the local incidence of the virus;
- “A continuation of public health strategies such as required masking, social distancing, sentinel testing and contact tracing;
- “The enforcement of safeguards surrounding activities on- and off-campus;
- “Provisions of virtual and hybrid instruction for students with health conditions or other constraints that would make it unsafe for them to attend classes in person;
- “Constant monitoring of local conditions so that a pivot back to virtual or hybrid instruction and limited campus activities could be implemented quickly should they be necessary.”
The CDC offers guidance in its “Toolkit for Colleges and Universities,” which discusses everything from vaccine information to shared housing and tips for administrators. Let’s look at some other tools that might be useful to administrators, faculty, cafeteria and maintenance staff, students, and the bevy of additional individuals who keep campuses operating.
Student and staff ID cards
Consider upgrading your ID cards to a smart card, if you’re not currently using them. Smart cards have the technology and ample storage space for several uses/applications. For example, a cardholder can use their ID to pay for food in the cafeteria, swipe for attendance in classes, check out library materials and equipment, access laboratories and other highly restricted areas, and much more.
Your smart ID cards could store sensitive personal information about vaccination, health issues, and other risk factors. They could track COVID-19 data and information and help you manage any outbreaks. Smart cards rely on advanced technology that offers a wide range of ways to tap into their many benefits.
This is a touchy subject, but some universities and colleges, both private and public, are mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone returning to campus in the fall. This includes students, faculty, administrative staff, and all others who are on campus for any reason. Other institutions are waiting to see how legal challenges to this mandate will shake out in the court system. Here’s a list of “Live Updates on Campus Vaccine Requirements” if you’re interested to see where colleges and universities currently stand on the issue.
If the requirement is upheld in court, this is your most powerful tool to manage a full, in-person return to campus. Since most campuses require vaccination against diseases that spread easily like measles, mumps, and more, administrations as well as government agencies are urging the COVID vaccination to be added to the list.
Colleges and universities often use planning software to reconfigure classrooms, consider where ADA ramps should be placed, and a host of other structural and operational planning efforts. For example, Cartegraph is a planning software that helps a variety of industries manage their assets, both indoors and out. Its website states:
“Keep your staff, students, and visitors safe with Cartegraph. Evaluate your facilities, classrooms, labs, and offices for high-risk areas. Outline mitigation strategies and share building alteration plans to protect occupants in a COVID-19 world.”
Just like with your ID cards, harnessing the power of technology can be a game changer for your planning and execution. You can easily share your plans with all your stakeholders to gain confidence and buy-in for your return-to-campus agenda.
Another powerful tool is a simple survey. Surveys let you determine what your stakeholders need to see in your return-to-campus plan, and you can gather feedback on your COVID response actions to date. Consider how a survey targeting your faculty and other educational staff can gather data about internal needs for in-person classes.
The Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS) offers colleges and universities an avenue to share information, data, expertise, and more. They created three surveys at the beginning of the pandemic: one for students, another for staff, and the third for faculty. The purpose was to gauge how well universities and colleges responded to COVID-19. You can read the results here if interested.
Use quick surveys often to learn more about how your stakeholders perceive your actions, to solicit suggestions for improvement, to discover ideas for the future, and more. Target each stakeholder group with five or fewer pertinent questions, and use that data to make better decisions.
Most experts say COVID will be with us for a while. As new strains develop and we learn more about the longevity of vaccines, colleges and universities may need to pivot mid-stream again like they did in the spring of 2020. The tools listed above will help you change course easier and faster, and gather the information you need to plan appropriately for what the future might bring.