Stay Safe and Social While Heading Back to Campus
With COVID-19 looming over the 2020 academic year, colleges must plan to support students returning to campus.
It’s time to go back to school! While a lot of the national conversation has focused on how to reopen elementary and secondary education safely, it’s important to talk about how COVID-19 will impact higher education, as well. College campuses coast-to-coast are welcoming students into dorms, starting orientation and ramping up for classes to start in the next couple of weeks. Like the rest of the world, this year’s campuses are going to be very different than they were at this time in 2019!
How can students stay safe on campus?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began publishing guidelines for safety on college campuses in May 2020. Much of that advice applies to any place people gather to work:
- Encourage proper handwashing
- Require masks in any public space (including outdoors)
- Offer online and hybrid classes
- Allow staff to work remotely when possible
- Stay home when sick
Hand sanitizer stations and disinfectant wipe dispensers abound on today’s campuses. Schools are implementing social distancing in dorms, at residential dining facilities, in classrooms, at the gym and more. They’ve removed desks from classrooms or roped off rows of seats. Classes are being relocated to larger facilities to allow for greater spacing among students during lectures and exams are being moved online.
Some universities have even created app-based reservations in their dining halls to ensure distancing requirements can be met during mealtimes. Many institutions are also requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test before students are allowed on campus.
Although the CDC has made recommendations and issued guidelines, each state is largely responsible for creating its own plan for reopening higher education. Those plans vary quite a bit. California, for example, published a detailed guideline for colleges and universities that includes a prevention plan, cleaning and disinfecting practices, distancing recommendations, training recommendations, and more.
In Florida and New York, the state university systems released their own guidelines for all schools within the system on top of recommendations from the state and the CDC. Most plans are being published by state health departments; the CDC provides a list of all those departments.
Is it possible to be social while social distancing?
Social life is just as important as academics on college campuses. College friendships and networks can last a lifetime and provide vital connections and career opportunities. How can students make the most of that opportunity in the age of COVID-19? Traditional “getting to know you” activities and orientation for new students have been moved online; gatherings are severely limited or banned altogether.
Thankfully, today’s college students are savvier than ever when it comes to having a rich, robust virtual life. That ability to make connections easily without ever meeting people in real life may make the transition to today’s campus easier on them than on students just a few years older.
Social life on campus isn’t going to include lots of parties and public events for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean students and alumni can’t build the great relationships they are looking for. Increasing student engagement through your website can be a big part of helping them achieve that.
You may not think about your library as a place for student engagement, but libraries are getting louder! They aren’t just places to study quietly anymore. Today’s campus libraries are art galleries, hubs for collaboration and more. And your library’s website can help build that effective bridge between academics and student social experience. Let students see those art exhibitions virtually, reserve study rooms, print virtually, and check out books they can have delivered through on-campus mail or contactless pickup.
When you think about student social life and engagement, don’t forget your alumni. Making connections with alumni now can help students develop rich networks later. Alumni want to give back, and you can help them do that while they build networks with other alumni and students connect with them.
How can your school website help with safety and social distancing?
Virtual learning is becoming an ever-more-important part of the higher education experience. Until we have a vaccine and successful treatment for COVID-19, that isn’t likely to change. How students — current, prospective and recently graduated — experience your institution virtually is critical to their success and yours. So how can you make that experience its best?
You know that your students and faculty have moved more daily functions of campus life online. That includes:
- Email and online office tools
- Current news, weather and important announcements
- Blackboard or other course management software
- Student accounts and financial aid
- Official social media
- Bus and shuttle schedules
- Course catalogs and class registration
- Transcripts and grades
- Fitness activities
- On-campus job schedules, time clocks and payroll
- Health center appointments and more
Today, it includes watching lectures, too, whether live or recorded. Can your students do all of that in one place — a single-sign-in, one-stop shop for all the services they need? Is it easy to use on mobile devices? The right portal, with all their critical services integrated seamlessly, will make life easier for students during an extra stressful time — and that goes for faculty and staff too.
Both prospective and current students need good maps of your campus more than ever, especially if facility access is limited due to the pandemic. Changing walkway directions to help with social distancing or restricting access to busy centers? Your maps can help make life easier by indicating that kind of helpful information.
Accessibility has become a focus of campus life, both academically and socially. The Americans with Disabilities Act is now being applied to websites, and your site needs to be in compliance. People with visual, hearing, motor and/or cognitive impairments need to be able to use the web as anyone else would. That’s never been more important than now, with so many students participating in remote and hybrid learning.
In “the new normal,” everyone on your campus is trying to find their ways, both literally and figuratively. Amidst all the changes, having the right website can make all the difference in how the year unfolds.
To learn how your website can do more to help students make the most of their campus experiences, contact us for a site audit today!