By Isabel Hicks | Photo by Anil Jergens
Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.
When former President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke those words, he wasn’t referring to a global pandemic and its effect on college campuses. Yet, this quote provides a relevant reminder to the Colorado College administration as they frantically try to prepare for every possible scenario next year may bring.
COVID-19 and the anxiety it induces has many college students and families wondering what the 2020-21 academic year will look like. On May 4, CC Communications sent out an email that outlined the steps the college is taking to prepare for a year influenced by the pandemic. President Tiefenthaler explained the school’s creation of 10 working groups, each focused on a different subset of the college experience.
Provost Alan Townsend, who will become Interim President of the College on Aug. 1, is a member of the 2020-21 Flexible Academic Calendar Working Group. As he mentioned in an interview with National Public Radio, Townsend believes that the Block Plan gives the college a distinct advantage over other institutions in planning for next year because of its flexible nature.
“I think [the Block Plan is] something that CC students … ought to feel fortunate about at the moment,” Townsend disclosed in a phone call. “Our particular academic structure really does allow for a lot more flexibility and choice going into next year than most schools will. There’s a reason a lot of schools are now calling us and asking us, how do you do this?”
Sakina Bhatti ’22, the Student Body President Elect, is in the same working group with Townsend. “The gist of it all is that the administration is imagining ways to use the Block Plan to the college’s advantage in ways that other colleges are unable to do,” she said.
Townsend stressed that no decisions about next year are finalized yet. He expects any changes to next year’s academic calendar to be announced by the end of May. The announcement regarding whether classes will be online for all or part of fall semester will come at the end of June.
Ethan Greenberg ’20, the current Student Body President, is a member of the Flexible Academic Calendar working group as well. Their proposals are circulating beyond the group for review and feedback. “The proposals were presented at CCSGA’s meeting for feedback, were presented at last week’s Faculty Executive Committee, and will be presented Monday May 11 at the full faculty meeting,” he said.
The chance of delaying the start date of fall semester is very unlikely, according to Townsend. He said the administration is “honing in [on] trying to have a regular start to the year,” no matter if classes are on-campus or online. The reasoning behind this decision is to ensure that seniors can graduate on time “and move on to the opportunities they’re seeking after that,” the Provost explained.
One idea being considered for next year is the addition of a ninth block. Townsend said the extra block would take place in January, when half block is currently held. “There are ways in which we could alter the calendar very slightly,” Townsend said, for “another layer of flexibility of another block to work with.” He also noted that the availability of summer classes might be expanded upon, too.
Flexibility is the main consideration in the administration’s decisions about next year. Even if classes are allowed to be in-person, Townsend said the college will simultaneously offer some classes online for students who, for example, have a pre-existing condition that might make them more vulnerable to the virus. “We may have some students who can’t be here, or don’t want to be here, who still want to go forward and take some distance-based classes,” Townsend said. “We have some faculty who fall into more vulnerable categories who want to do the same.”
“Even if we can be back Block 1, there are international students with visa issues and travel issues who could not get there that soon,” Townsend added. “A couple of faculty members have talked about the possibility of them traveling to, [for] example, teach a course in Hong Kong.”
The bottom line? The administration is “trying to operate under this principle of simultaneously planning for a variety of outcomes that ideally maximize the chance for students to have as much of an in-person experience as they want,” Townsend said. “Ultimately, we’re paying really close attention to what’s a responsible and safe path forward under the public health conditions of the moment.”
Because of the unpredictable nature of the virus, it is too soon to tell if classes will continue to be held online next year. Tension exists between some students and the administration because distance learning costs the same as what families originally paid for in-person instruction. If fall semester goes online, the college will likely face a decline in enrollment because some students would rather take time off than pay the high tuition for classes they feel aren’t worth it.
“The CC experience is about diving into your field of study, going on field trips, studying abroad, collaboration with classmates, and dropping in for office hours,” Sada Rice ’22 said. “No matter what, online is not the same and I can’t justify the tuition.”
Alayna Mann-Schieffer ’22 said she would take the entire year off if fall semester is online because her spring classes have prerequisites she is slated to take in the fall. “Full tuition [for] online classes is not worth that much for me,” she said.
Some students are considering taking less expensive classes at their local universities in place of CC online courses. Eliza Hayse ’22 might take classes at University of Incarnate Word, the college in San Antonio, Texas where her dad works, she said.
“The amount of money we pay for CC is off the charts, and if I have to take classes online, there are public school options with a much more reasonable price tag,” Oliver Bradley ’22 added.
A student who wished to remain anonymous said she’s not sure if the local university option will even be a possibility for students. She was considering taking classes at a state university because “it’ll be much less expensive,” and emailed the registrar about her potential plan. The email was forwarded to Pedro de Araujo, the Vice Provost, who, according to the student, said that financial reasons are not typically one of the reasons they let people transfer credits from other universities. “So I’m not sure if I will be able to [do that],” she said. Once the decisions regarding next year are finalized, students will be able to discuss transfer credit feasibility with more certainty.
When asked about transfer credit protocol regarding financial reasons, Townsend said, “We have standard policies in place for transfer credits.”
Luckily for the college’s finances, not everyone is planning to take time off if distance learning continues. “If CC goes online in the fall, I would continue to take classes because I want to graduate on time,” Hannah Daitch ’22 said.
Gray Cullen ’22 said, “I’d still take all my courses. I figure that’s the best way of staying productive anyway.”
Sierra Romero ’22 explained she would “still take the classes because my scholarship doesn’t allow me to take time off.”
Townsend is troubled about the prospect of declining enrollment if fall goes online. “I’ll be honest, if a lot of students choose not to come, that will be deeply damaging to the college,” he said. Townsend emphasized that it’s important to realize we could be living with coronavirus for a while. “The notion that … we gotta figure out the fall and then we’ll get back to business as usual — it may not be that way,” he said.
“If I were a student or family right now, I wouldn’t be making my decisions on the fall alone. I would be thinking about the long-term path,” Townsend said.
He noted that “if you [have] a lot of students say ‘I’m not gonna come next year and I’ll just start the year after,’ we might have a really packed overly-crowded couple of years of far more students than we’re used to.” Townsend believes this will lead to students “having an even harder time getting into classes, and frankly, a budgetary situation where it is hard or impossible to accommodate all of that.”
Townsend advised his college-aged son to not take time off school and learn to adapt to the situation. “That’s what I would tell students here too,” he said.
The Provost said that a reduced tuition for online class in order to retain students is not being considered. “Doing that starts to have a quick cascade of issues that will … reduce the student experience and what we’re able to offer,” he said. “That’s just the flat-out reality of the way any of these colleges run.”
The administration’s explanation for tuition not changing for online classes is that it costs the same amount of money for the school to produce that credit online as it does in person.
“We had all the costs necessary to produce that credit that we would have had in the classroom,” explained CC Vice President of Finance Robert Moore in a previous interview. “[Students will] get the academic credit for Block 7 [and 8] whether it was in-person or online.”
“Try to remember that these are the same world class faculty, who are actually working even harder [now],” Townsend added. He said faculty are “putting even more time and energy into the [online] experience and delivery than they do even in a normal block, which is already hard as hell.”
Townsend wants students to know these changes are hard on everyone and that the anxiety surrounding them is really understandable. “Everybody wants some greater certainty for the next year than we can provide,” he said.
As Block 8 concludes, students should keep an eye on their inboxes for finalized decisions about next year, which are expected to be announced in May and June.