Even as colleges across the country are pivoting back and forth over their fall semester instructional plans and residential arrangements, attention is now shifting to the spring, 2021 semester as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, often with the biggest spikes taking place on college campuses.
Not surprisingly, much of the concern is focused on spring break, which earlier this year was linked to heightened levels of viral transmission as students traveled en masse to favored vacation spots, usually with little regard for social distancing and particularly for masking, which at that point had yet to be identified as the key public health step it’s now recognized to be. Most of the newly announced schedules eliminate or significantly shorten spring break in an attempt to prevent a repeat of that behavior.
Here are some examples of major universities that have already released information about their spring semester schedules.
As reported in Forbes, California State University, the nation’s largest four-year public system with 23 campuses and more than 500,000 enrolled students, was one of the first to declare it would deliver most courses online through the spring semester of 2021. In a September 10 letter to faculty, staff and students, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White wrote, “We know far more about [the pandemic] now than we did back in May. The virus continues to spread. There is no vaccine and there likely will not be one widely available any time soon.”
Last week, The Ohio State University announced it would modify its spring semester calendar in an attempt to protect its students and the general public from the coronavirus. The semester will begin on January 11, and the first week of classes will be entirely online. In addition, there will be no spring break in an attempt to reduce travel-related exposure to the virus. Instead, there will be two days without classes, on February 9 and March 31.
Carnegie Mellon University will delay its spring opening till Feb. 1, three weeks later than was originally scheduled. It will also shorten the semester to 14 weeks, employ an abbreviated exam period, and replace spring break week with two spring break days.
Purdue University is also eliminating spring break, just as it did fall break during the current semester. However, unlike the fall semester, where students will finish classes and finals remotely after Thanksgiving, the spring semester will be held on campus through finals week and commencement. Instead of spring break, Purdue will add three “reading days” during the semester, during which no classes will be held.
Kansas State University has also decided to adjust its spring, 2021 calendar. The spring semester will begin one week later (Jan. 25) than originally planned and end with commencement on May 14-15, as previously scheduled. The new spring schedule eliminates spring break.
The University of Nebraska, Lincoln is considering starting next semester with an optional three-week session before the spring semester begins on Jan. 25. As proposed, the optional three-week session would run from Jan. 4-22. The schedule eliminates spring break (March 14-21) and ends with commencement on May 7-8. The proposal will be considered at the October 8th meeting of the University’s Board of Regents.
Expect momentum for reconfigured spring semesters to build. It’s also likely – in light of the pandemic’s impact on colleges campuses – that many universities will continue to offer instruction through a mixture of remote, hybrid and live instruction next spring. Many may continue to reduce the number of students allowed to live on campus. Paradoxically, not only might those precautions prove insufficient to reduce the risks that many communities will face if students go on traditional spring breaks, they might also have the unintended consequence of facilitating students traveling during the spring whenever they choose.