With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing schools to make radical changes to instruction, the threat of an online or hybrid format for classes continues to loom for the fall semester.
Schools such as Purdue University, University of Notre Dame and New York University have bucked the trend of online instruction and announced plans to resume in-person instruction in the fall. Some, such as Notre Dame, have implemented adjusted schedules without breaks, while others have adopted policies to reduce housing density, increase testing and offer large lectures remotely.
If other Midwestern schools like Notre Dame and Purdue feel they can safely return to online classes, IU can too.
Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University, said in an interview that, given the majority of students are under the age of 35, “the data is very, very clear: [they are] at essentially no lethal risk from this disease.” Given this low risk, Purdue is anticipating a return to in-person instruction in the fall.
He’s right. For those 18 to 44 years old, the death rate from COVID-19 is 0.019% based on a New York City study.
Of course, the death rate shouldn’t be the only consideration. What about the severe cases we see all the time on the news? CDC data shows these are extremely atypical cases, with only .0025% of people ages 18 to 49 requiring hospitalization for severe symptoms. Based on a CDC study, people ages 18 to 49 only comprised 24.28% of total hospitalizations, despite being the largest age range.
The average college-aged student is at little to no risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19. Of course, students with underlying conditions, as well as faculty and staff who may be older and at risk, may still need special accommodations to ensure safety. Any plan to reopen should include special consideration like online options for those at risk, but the vast majority of students and professors can safely resume in person instruction.
It is also essential that IU open for in-person instruction from a financial perspective.
Out-of-state students pay over $50,000 annually to attend IU. They pay this amount because they believe in the quality of education that IU provides. That quality is greatly reduced when interactions are consigned to online platforms. I wouldn't be surprised if some out-of-state students decide to take a year off and save their money until they can continue with in-person instruction.
This is especially true for incoming freshmen, who have the option to take a gap year without affecting their educational progress. I would venture that it would be the most logical option to take a gap year if incoming freshmen can’t benefit from on-campus, in-person instruction. Why spend $50,000 for Zoom lectures?
Most importantly, if fewer students attend IU because of online instruction, every remaining student’s tuition will increase. While there has not been a formal announcement, it's feasible that students will see a tuition increase purely because of budget shortfalls from this past year, and fewer students would compound the issue.
For the sake of their students, their educational mission and their continuing fiscal well-being, it is imperative for IU to return to in-person instruction in the fall, and not just a “hybrid approach,” as President Michael McRobbie mused in a previous announcement. While the hybrid approach is a step in the right direction, it doesn't go far enough to mitigate the adverse effects of online instruction. Holding online lectures and virtual office hours still doesn't engage students the way in-person instruction does.
The statistics are clear. Students are largely not at risk of severe COVID-19 cases, and a return to some semblance of normalcy in the fall with proper social distancing and sanitation procedures is not only possible, but both safe and necessary.
Brett Abbott (he/him) is a rising sophomore studying finance and is the press secretary for College Republicans at IU. He plans to pursue a career in business or politics.