Florida university life to look different in the fall

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

College students in Florida hoping for a return to normal in the fall will have to wait and see.

The state’s 12 public universities recently announced plans to reopen, after being forced to abruptly shut down in March because of COVID-19, and private schools throughout the state are planning their reopening as well, though life on campus may look dramatically different than students are used to.

Remote classes and widespread virus testing will likely become a part of everyday life for many students.

“We are re-imagining our spaces, providing cutting-edge care and making testing widely available upon our return to campus,” said University of Miami president Julio Frenk. “We just need to coexist with the virus and adapt. At this point, it would take something really very dramatic, which I do not envision, for us not to open in the fall.”

But even as school officials make plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, questions remain about how feasible social distancing efforts are among students accustomed to sporting events, parties and college life.

State university system Chancellor Marshall Criser was scheduled to present guidelines for reopening campuses in the fall at the university system’s Board of Governor’s meeting in late May.

The state is allowing each public university to make plans that account for the seriousness of pandemic in their region. Representatives will present their plan to the Board of Governors on June 23.

Remote Learning

As campuses emptied in March, professors transitioned their classes online for the remainder of the semester. University leaders are preparing for the possibility that remote learning will continue into the fall.

Florida State University Provost Sally E. McRorie told faculty members in an email on May 4 that the majority of courses would continue to be taught remotely in the fall.

“We plan to offer only face-to-face courses that cannot be done through other pedagogies,” McRorie said in an email obtained by the News Service of Florida.

For some coursework, the shift to remote learning is relatively seamless, but classes dependent on hands-on work and group discussion are difficult to replicate in an online format.

Students in the hospitality college at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee normally run a tapas restaurant as part of their schooling, where they learn everything from menu creation to staff management and financing.

Pat Moreo, professor and dean of the college, is hopeful that “Bulls Bistro” will resume operations in the fall, but his faculty is preparing online simulations in case the restaurant cannot open.

“Will it be the same in a simulation? My guess is not,” Moreo said. “But we’ll compensate for that by other exercises.”

Student life

While university leaders may be able to enforce social distancing measures in the classroom, that’s a much tougher task when it comes to students’ social lives.

“That’s going to be rough,” said Jacob Wentz, who just graduated from New College of Florida in Sarasota. “Especially for the high school seniors that are now going to become college freshman… Staying six feet apart isn’t really conducive to forming relationships.”

The state has been spared some of the most dire predictions, possibly making it even tougher for college officials to enforce rules that would have seemed laughably improbable prior to the pandemic.

“People are getting antsy and want to see people and get back to some sort of normalcy,” Wentz said. “So some people might not adhere to (social distancing rules), especially college kids.”

Gannett reporters Emily Bloch, Pam McCabe and Thomas D’Angelo contributed to this report.

What to expect as colleges and universities reopen

Details remain in the works for how colleges and universities will adapt to COVID-19 in the fall, but a few major themes have emerged, as students and families make their plans for the 2020-21 academic year.

The state’s 12 public universities will be unveiling plans for reopening at the university system’s Board of Governors meeting on June 23. Each school’s plans will vary, based on their region, student body and campus layout.

Students at both public and private colleges should expect social-distancing guidelines.

Schools are preparing for expanded online offerings. In some cases, this will include courses that are typically hands-on.