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Students need to stay safe from the coronavirus, but what could the economic consequences be of JMU students not returning in the fall?

Kaylee Cox | The Breeze

Opinion | JMU shouldn’t hold in-person classes this fall

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the world, many people wonder: When will everyday life return to normal? For students, these questions often arise when it comes to universities and their decisions for fall classes. 

On April 24, students received an email from JMU’s president, Jonathan Alger, stating that JMU plans to hold in-person classes in the fall. In the email, Alger stated that, “The university is prepared to be as proactive as possible in protecting our community’s health.” However, it’s important to understand that campus living may be drastically changed to follow the guidelines of social distancing. 

According to FiveThirtyEight, the spread of COVID-19 is rising, and this may be due to the fact that there are still people who refuse to participate in social distancing. Placing thousands of young, naive students on a large campus and expecting them to avoid large gatherings is highly unlikely. While few would follow the rule, the vast majority of students would ignore social distancing regulations, according to the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. 

Housing two students in a dorm room doesn’t exactly comply with social distancing rules, either. According to the Elite Daily, any close-quarter living can increase the chances of the spread of any viral infection, including COVID-19. In most dorms, bathrooms and kitchens are shared spaces, so germs circulate easily. This makes resident halls and apartments breeding grounds for the virus to spread easily to thousands of students. 

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institution of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently stated that it would take 12 to 18 months in order to create a successful vaccine against COVID-19. If JMU holds in-person classes in the fall and thousands of students return to campus, a second wave of the virus may resurface. Health.com states that a resurgence of the virus may be worse and could take a bigger toll on the country, leaving hospitals overrun and devastated. 

Most students, whether a rising or graduating Duke, want the full JMU college experience. If classes resume regularly in the fall, JMU will be responsible for adhering to social distancing regulations. Dining hall seating and classroom sizes may be heavily regulated, along with library hours and usage. 

As many students struggle with the transition of online learning, class engagement is likely decreasing since the beginning of the semester, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The New York Times states that poor wifi connection and lack of motivation are two of the driving forces behind failing online classes. If classes remain online in the fall, many students may decide to drop out of courses or take a gap year instead, according to ABCnews. This may encourage students to look for employment as the economy suffers from COVID-19. 

According to USNews.com, 25% of people infected with the virus may be asymptomatic. If students return to campus and contract the virus, there’s a risk of infecting loved ones at home during fall or Thanksgiving break. Keeping classes online minimizes the risk of community spread throughout campus. 

The future is uncertain for universities and students. However, it's important that students remain online and practice social distancing until a trusted vaccine is released and things can go back to normal. 

Kaylee Cox is a senior media arts and design major. Contact Kaylee at coxkm@dukes.jmu.edu.

Evan Holden | The Breeze

Opinion | Colleges need to reopen next fall

Colleges across the country are facing a dilemma about a decision they have to make in the coming months. The consequences of either choice have the potential to create immeasurable damage: Can they open their campuses for students to return in fall 2020? 

The severity of this decision lies within the potential medical and economic concerns colleges might find themselves dealing with. Both sides of this issue are important and it’s difficult to say one is more important than the other. The medical risks could be just as dangerous as the economic risks. 

While it would be perfectly fair to keep students off college campuses and continue online education as a precaution, the economic loss they’d face is even more devastating than any medical complications. Colleges rely on several different kinds of income in order to remain in operation, and all of those sources are threatened by an inability to reopen campuses.  

One of the most important forms of income is from enrollment, which would take the biggest hit. It’s obvious that students graduating from high school don’t want to pay massive tuition just for an online experience. Even if colleges force enrolling students to make a decision before they know if the school would be online or in person, many would avoid the risk altogether. A sizable amount of the current graduating class would no doubt avoid that and either take a gap year or start their career in the workforce. 

This would make enrollment plummet, and the problem only starts there. Those who decide to take a gap year would enroll next year, assuming the pandemic has ended, which would drastically increase the amount of enrolling students colleges usually have. Next year’s high school graduating class would have to compete with this year’s for an acceptance that would then be much harder to get. In this extremely competitive environment, it’s possible that college could end up looking like a more unattractive option than ever, and that’s not to mention how much tuition will have skyrocketed due to a lack of funds. 

That’s not the only thing that would have to change. Colleges need the money they make through enrollment, tuition and endowments, but all of these sources of income are rapidly disappearing. Many students have already recieved major refunds on their tuition and housing, and tuition from international students will be disappearing all together. The endowments which many schools — especially small ones — were struggling to receive will be shrinking even more due to the tanking economy. Many colleges might have to freeze salaries, reduce hiring and make many other budget cuts. 

The small colleges across America that were already barely getting by will likely close all together. Where that happens, any students currently enrolled at that school could lose all credits and be down thousands of dollars and a few yes ars with no compensation according to Bloomberg Opinion. Even if students were lucky enough to graduate from a school before it closed, being an alumni of a now defunct college might look bad to future employers. 

If colleges can’t open in the fall, they’ll face some serious issues, but so will the students. The opportunities of graduating high schoolers could diminish very quickly. Where they go to college could change, how long they go and even if they go at all. Many students can no longer afford out-of-state tuition even before it drastically increases. Many students wouldn’t be able to attend some schools because of cut backs on scholarships and financial aid. When the colleges lose money, they can’t help students receive an education, which leads to them losing even more money. 

If campuses around the U.S. open, they create the possibility for the virus to spread across the country and infect people at a much higher rate than it previously had the ability to. Millions of people would be leaving their homes to live in close quarters and interact with thousands of others in confined spaces. We can only predict what the state of the pandemic will be in August, so it’s difficult to decide just how many precautions we need to take. Time is running out and choices have to be made soon, but we have to make sure we don’t overprepare and destroy higher education in the process. 

Evan Holden is a freshman political science major. Contact Evan at holdened@dukes.jmu.edu.