While online universities have their place, they do not offer the full buffet of educational opportunities that are found on university and college campuses.
So it was understandably disappointing for students on campuses to have to finish out their spring terms online. It wasn’t what they expected, nor paid for. Nevertheless, the move to distance learning was something that had to be done as the coronavirus pandemic hit in March.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic remains a threat. And that’s put colleges and universities across the nation in a tough spot. Do they reopen this fall or do they continue online learning?
Locally, the three institutions of higher learning are wisely planning to offer in-person classes and their leaders are taking appropriate steps to make this as safe as possible for students and faculty.
Walla Walla University officials, for example, recently announced the College Place school is moving up the start of fall classes two weeks to Sept. 14 so the quarter will end before Thanksgiving. This is so students would not be going home and then immediately returning to campus for the final two weeks of the quarter.
Aaron Nakamura, WWU’s director of marketing and university relations, said the university’s Return to Campus Task Force carefully considered how to protect students and avoid academic disruption.
“Some of our students come to us from places that could be classified as ‘COVID hot spots.’ Some health experts believe a dangerous second round of COVID-19 is possible during fall and winter. Limiting unnecessary travel to and from our campuses could prove important to slowing the spread,” he said.
This makes a great deal of sense as it will limit potential contamination of the WWU campus.
Whitman College previously announced it would be moving its start date up for similar reasons — to reduce student travel outside the campus. Walla Walla Community College, which doesn’t have a large number of students from outside of the area, is planning on starting on Aug. 24.
However, while the plans are all well thought out, the fact is the coronavirus situation can change in a blink. The leaders at these schools understand that and know they must be ready to change plans just as quickly.
When August arrives, the coronavirus pandemic might be worse than today, and online learning might be the only option for the colleges in the Valley.
Let’s hope not — and move forward with plans for in-person learning in a manner that’s as safe as possible. These college students deserve to get the best education possible.