Dr. Kent Ingle: Safety in a pandemic – here are 6 things parents of college-bound kids need to consider

As a college parent, you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information universities are putting out there. Ultimately, you and your child will have to make a decision based on what college you believe fits your standard for safety measures and your personal beliefs on the pandemic.

Over the past few months, with evolving information, safety precautions have become highly politicized, including the effectiveness of masks and social distancing. There’s also a growing number of people, particularly younger populations, who don’t plan on getting vaccinated. 

Keep in mind, the college demographic is one with a lower death rate. The 18- to 29-year-old age group makes up 0.5% of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

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By now, most colleges have announced their fall 2021 plans. Some may still be waiting on the data before they decide to eliminate social distancing or masks. However, you should be able to get a pulse on what each college plans to do. 

Here are six questions to consider before sending your student off to college this fall. 

1. How do you feel about masks? A few colleges across the country have announced plans to possibly eliminate mask mandates. At this point, many universities have not come out to say whether or not they will require masks. Others will require them if the CDC continues to encourage them. The approaches taken by school districts in your state may also affect the decisions by public universities. At Southeastern University, we surveyed our faculty and staff and then our students to see how they felt about wearing masks in the fall. This gave us the pulse on our campus sentiment before we made any decisions. 

2. Does your child plan to be vaccinated? A growing number of universities have announced they will require students and employees to be vaccinated. If your child plans to be vaccinated and you would feel more comfortable with them being around other vaccinated individuals, you may want to consider sending them to one of those schools. The Chronicle of Higher Education has compiled a running list of all the schools requiring vaccines for the fall. For those who are hesitant to be vaccinated, there are still many universities that will not require students to be vaccinated but will rather encourage it. 

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3. Does your child feel comfortable with in-person events and classes? The University of Alabama announced on March 1 that all of their campuses plan to return to traditional in-person instruction without capacity limitations. Other universities have announced that they also plan to mostly open with in-person classes. The University of Colorado in particular will continue to follow the CDC’s guidelines of three feet between desks, and larger classrooms will not be available if they do not allow for social distancing. Following other universities across the nation, at Southeastern, we plan to return to full capacity in-person classes and hold more in-person events. 

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4. How does the university handle COVID cases? Check to see if your child’s school of choice will still require students who are not vaccinated to be quarantined if they are exposed to the virus or isolated if they test positive. At Southeastern University where I serve as president we will continue to have a COVID case manager in place to track exposures and positive cases. We will also set aside one residential hall for students who may need to isolate due to a positive COVID-19 test result. 

5. What are the university’s cleaning procedures? Students surveyed at Southeastern wanted to see the university continue current cleaning protocols. According to the CDC, regular cleaning helps reduce the number of germs on surfaces and can decrease the risk of transmitting COVID. Living in a college environment, germs can spread easily in high-traffic areas. Since the onset of the pandemic, many universities invested in higher grade air filtration systems and disinfection chemicals. Southeastern will continue to regularly clean high traffic areas and disinfect surfaces when individuals test positive. 

6. Would you consider an online option? If your child does not feel comfortable returning to in-person classes, you may want to contact the university to see if they offer remote learning or if he or she could be considered an online student. However, be aware that not every student succeeds in online learning. Best Colleges found that 42% of students said they struggled with staying motivated to do well while their classes were online during the pandemic. 

In addition to asking yourself these questions, be sure to take the time to research different colleges, read their fall plans or reach out to an admission counselor to ask questions. Although every higher education institution may differ on their COVID-19 protocols, I can assure you, safety and health will still be a top priority this upcoming fall. 

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