Jun 27, 2020 - Health

A blueprint for managing colleges during coronavirus

A single student walks on the UCLA campus

A single student walks on the UCLA campus. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

As colleges look to adjust to a lasting pandemic, they'll need to find new ways to service students in person and offline.

Why it matters: Colleges were forced to suddenly switch to online learning when COVID-19 struck and are now focusing on figuring out how to reopen safely. But the realities of the pandemic will demand an innovative mix of distance services and physical transformation.

What's new: Gensler, the world's biggest architectural firm, recently put out a series of guidelines for college reopening that are the result of more than 400 conversations with administrators, students and experts around the country.

  • The scale of what needs to be done can't be underestimated. "A university might be the most complex organization to reopen, on par with a city," says David Broz, principal at Gensler. "It has housing, it has food, it has retail, it has large assembly spaces and sports. And it's a 24/7 environment."

Details: Those schools that aim to physically reopen to students in the fall will need to design housing, classrooms, and more in a way that limits total capacity and supports physical distancing.

  • That includes prioritizing single-occupancy housing — which may require contracting with nearby hotels for additional space — and potentially keeping students in common pods to reduce their number of contacts.

The catch: Besides the challenge of getting teens and 20-somethings to follow social distancing rules — which is apparently not working too well in the real world — successfully implementing them would fundamentally change the college experience.

  • Being kept in small groups "is like high school or grade school," says Broz. "You go to a university for a more diverse experience."
  • Partially as a result, colleges need to continue to add to online learning options.

Yes, but: Colleges will be hard-pressed to find the money to transform their campuses and improve online learning, as this Wall Street Journal story notes.

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