New Book Outlines Fifteen College Reopening Scenarios

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.


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Reopening America’s 5,000+ colleges and universities after COVID-19 campus closures is surely the greatest logistical quagmire higher education administrators have faced in recent memory. In order to properly obey government health protocols and assuage the fears of students and parents alike, schools will have to rework every aspect of their normal operations.

These challenges have led some university systems, such as the University of California and California State, to decide relatively early on to throw in the towel and hold most classes online with “limited exceptions” (e.g. fields where hands-on work is absolutely necessary, such as nursing and the hard sciences). Others have dragged their feet during the summer months, only to come to the same decision, including the University of North Carolina, Michigan State, and Notre Dame.

While it’s debatable that the coronavirus pandemic has really ushered in a “new normal,” rather than an aberration that should be seen as anything but, colleges and universities will certainly have to adapt for the foreseeable future. Most governmental leaders have made a true return to normalcy contingent upon the successful deployment of a coronavirus vaccine, a work still in progress.

So, in the meantime, what are colleges and universities to do? Is there a one-size-fits-all solution for every school? What about a two- or three-sizes-fit-all plan? According to Joshua Kim and Edward Maloney of Georgetown University, fifteen ought to do the trick.

In their new book, The Low-Density University: 15 Scenarios for Higher Education, Kim and Maloney outline a wide variety of reopening options on a spectrum between “Back to Normal” and “Fully Remote.” Within these two extremes, the remaining thirteen scenarios fall under five categories, including those related to: 1) when the semester will start; 2) which students, if any, will be on campus; 3) what curricular changes will be made; 4) the location of instruction; and 5) the instructional method. The full book is available to read for free on Project MUSE.

The authors are clear that no one option is right for every school, or even all those within a particular type of institution (e.g. urban, private colleges). But their book is a helpful compendium of the different options deemed viable by higher education administrators around the country. Kim and Maloney call it “a framework for making future decisions,” one that they hope will be of continual help to colleges and universities in the months and years of planning and re-planning to come.

Surely some reopening scenarios will be more successful than others, and only time will tell which is which. Let us know in the comment section (click the button below) how your schools are reopening and if you can find their scenarios for reopening in Kim and Maloney’s book.


CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Matthew Rice, Public Domain

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