Campus Housing Amidst COVID-19

Private colleges and universities have been making every effort possible to ensure the health and safety of their students, faculty, and staff during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Daily communication and encouragement have been coming in the form of updates and short videos uploaded to websites.

Presidents and other leaders are expressing gratitude for their community’s willingness to be adaptable and flexible. As expected, they are vowing to work together to protect each other, and their wider communities, during this unusual time.

They recognize that creative solutions are emerging, and even more will be emerging, as we work together to determine how best to deliver the highest quality educational programs and maintain each unique campus community in a digital environment, until we can all return to our on-campus homes.

Impacts to On-Campus Housing

As a result of federal and state guidelines related to reducing the spread of COVID-19, colleges and universities across the US have closed as many buildings as possible, including on-campus housing. The typical density of population in residence halls does increase the risk factor for the spread of disease, particularly via small, shared spaces such as elevators.

Out of concern for student safety, campuses look more like summer break than the middle of spring semester as dormitories, apartments, and fraternity and sorority houses have been closed in an effort to stop the virus from spreading.

For instance, at Pomona College in Claremont, CA, nearly all of the 1,671 students live on campus. On March 11, 98% of students were asked to leave campus by March 18 as classes transferred to online instruction. Students who had no other housing choice filled out petition-to- stay’ form.

Leadership recognized the reality they faced in that Pamona — like other institutions — was not equipped to support an on-campus population in the face of a pandemic. They vowed to work with every student who needs help “in this extraordinary emergency.”

By March 20 less than 100 students remained on campus. With the issuance of a statewide stay-at-home order by Governor Newsom, the college moved those students who could not leave campus into one residence hall.

An online statement offered that this building has “the type of air circulation deemed healthiest for this situation, the better ratio of students per bathroom, is closer to the mailroom and Residence Life Office and has an industrial kitchen should we need to move dining operations into the building.”

Providing Bins, Boxes, & Packing Material

Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA, hosts 84% of its 1,079 students in campus housing. When the decision was made on March 17 to move instruction online for the remainder of the semester, students were also instructed to move off campus. Students began the check-out process and bins, boxes, and packing materials were made available in residence-hall lobbies.

All residence halls closed by March 22 with minimal exceptions. The college looked for alternatives for students who were unable to return home or couldn’t find housing elsewhere. Students already off campus for Peak Week and spring break were told not to return until they received specific instructions. Students were asked to mail their key cards to the Office of Residence Life, and prorated room and board adjustments were made.

At Union College in Schenectady, NY, 90% of the 2,242 enrolled students live on campus. All instruction moved online on March 17 with the new term beginning March 30. Students who had left for spring break were asked to pick up their belongings by March 22.

If students were unable to do so, their items remained on campus until they could return. On March 19, Governor Cuomo signed an executive order limiting on-site staff to 25% of the usual workforce. The college responded by minimizing “ourselves to the smallest possible number of buildings and on-site staff that are required to support students who cannot leave, and essential functions that must be performed.”

Dining Services and Housing Remain Open, With Adaptations

At Grand View University in Des Moines, IA, less than 50% of its 1,800 students live on campus. As of March 16, when the university went to online instruction through the end of semester, campus housing and dining services remained open, though students who could return home were highly encouraged to do so.

By March 19, dining services became “grab and go” in an effort to limit group gatherings and to serve students who continued to live on campus. Grand View’s first priority, as they explained in a campus statement, was to work with their housing staff and food service provider to ensure they are prepared to meet the needs of those who must remain on campus.

Although the majority of buildings have closed, campuses remain open with the most vital services still being offered. Students unable to leave, due to a variety of circumstances, have access to the internet, to food, and to health and wellness services.

Quick adjustments to campus housing may serve to decrease the risk of spreading disease while also providing a safe place for those students who remain on campus.

The measures taken by colleges and universities to reduce the number of students on campus, to increase the frequency of sanitizing surfaces, and to continually share best practices regarding personal hygiene should minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 and other illnesses.

Strength and Resilience

With student safety as the number one priority for campus leaders, every aspect of university functioning is adapting.

Through it all, leaders at private colleges and universities across the nation are speaking of how encouraging it is to see seeing their communities demonstrating strength and resilience during these extraordinary times.

About the Author
PUPN staff writer Lisa Gibbs earned her Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration in 2018. She is an advocate for arts, particularly dance, in education and for increasing the financial well-being of artists through financial education.