Over the past several months, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impact all of our lives in ways we could never have anticipated – especially higher education.
Like so many college presidents across the country, I deliberated one of the most important decisions of my time at Post University: to provide an in-person academic and residential program and invite students to return – or offer remote-only learning this fall. Together with our provost, input from faculty, students and a team of more than 30 associates, we spent countless hours discussing ways to keep our students and associates safe on our campuses and posing challenging questions.
Would masks and social distancing be enough?
Could we guarantee the health of our senior faculty members or immuno-compromised students and associates?
Would I feel comfortable enrolling my own children in on-campus courses?
It became instantly apparent that any plan where students returned to campus would not be in the best interest of our Post – and Waterbury – community. With the interests of our many constituents in mind, we chose to remain online for our fall 2020 semester. Most importantly, the health and well-being of our students and staff is at the top of our decision tree. With that in mind, the decision was easy, especially when we have such a dynamic virtual campus option.
Our decision may not be the option our students wanted, especially our incoming freshman. I know it is not the way they wished to start their college experience. Our returning students will miss their friends, professors and campus culture. We will miss our students and the campus environment, too. However, we are a university that focuses on civic responsibility and the power of knowledge. The reality is that an in-person semester not only would have potentially placed our students in grave danger, but strict health measures and social distancing guidelines would have meant the semester would fall short of expectations.
With a 24-year history of teaching online – this is our moment to show what a virtual campus is all about. Our nearly 2,000 faculty and staff are specifically trained to teach online courses. We have a robust technological infrastructure and courses specifically designed for online learning and we adhere to explicit accreditations for online learning. These investments in technology and the continued professional development of our faculty and staff ensure that our classes remain exceptional and engaging.
Our virtual campus includes all the amenities and events that are expected of a traditional college experience, including extra support for new students and freshmen to help them transition to the remote learning format for the fall. From orientation and tutoring, to counseling and student clubs, our students will find valuable experiences in our virtual campus.
We also understand these past several months have created a strain on our economy and finances for many families. Many of our students contribute and help to support their families. Tuition should not be a flash point when deciding between daily necessities and future goals. With this in mind, we lowered our tuition for traditional campus-based undergraduate students by 60 percent for the fall 2020 semester and waived all fees so students can take as many courses as they can manage during the semester. It is our gesture to show we truly are all in this together and that Post University is committed to doing our part to ensure our students can continue their education safely.
Higher education institutions owe it to the health of its students — and its communities — to do its part to reduce the risks and commit to a culture of shared responsibility. The alarming rise in numbers of outbreaks and hospitalizations across the nation, particularly among young, healthy adults, poses a public health threat to our on-campus academic and local community. Ultimately, it is our collective duty to interrupt the spread of the virus, protect this community, and maintain a healthy environment for all.
Let’s move forward, together.
John L. Hopkins is CEO and President of Post University, Waterbury.