In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Harvard University announced that all undergraduate classes will be taught online this fall. Harvard will allow only 40 percent of its undergraduates to live on campus, including all of its first-year students.
As several people have pointed out, Harvard's decision to teach students online this fall will prompt other universities to reassess their own teaching plans for the fall semester. After all, if mighty Harvard, with its $40 billion endowment, has thrown in the towel regarding face-to-face instruction, then many other colleges will surely follow suit.
Who are we--mere mortals--to question Harvard? Nevertheless, I don't understand the point of bringing first-year students on campus if they are going to be huddled over computers in their dorm rooms when taking classes. Why not let Harvard students stay home with mom and dad if they are not going to see their professors?
Harvard and other elite universities will weather the pandemic if it doesn't stretch on too long. People who get admitted to Harvard will gladly accept any inconvenience to put Harvard University on their resumes. And, for a short time at least, Harvard can get away with teaching its courses online while charging full tuition--$49,000 a year!
But experts predict that the second- and third-tier colleges will see fewer students this fall. And those students will likely take price into account when choosing their schools. After all, if students are going to be denied a traditional college experience—student clubs, dorm life, opportunities to develop romantic relationships—why not enroll in the cheapest school?
Without a doubt, most universities will have a lot of empty dorm rooms on their hands this fall, which means a significant loss in revenue. Privately owned student-housing complexes will also have vacant units, and many of these complexes were built with borrowed money. The savvy cats who expected to make tidy profits on so-called luxury student housing may have trouble making their mortgage payments.
The coronavirus pandemic makes a lot of recent university projects look silly. Louisiana State University, for example, spent $85 million on a student recreation center that includes a climbing wall and a "Lazy River" water feature shaped like the university's initials. It looked like a smart move at the time, and the center was financed with student fees.
Now the Lazy River no longer seems so attractive. Instead, it just looks like a great place to contract COVID-19.
|Wigglesworth Hall at Harvard: Be sure to bring your home computer|