Thank you to everyone who has contributed to and continues to read our ongoing Campus Perspectives series. This week our topic shifts to planning for the Fall semester this year. If you have any topics you would like us to pose to our panelists, or if you would like to contribute yourself, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: From enrollment projections to stay at home orders, there are a lot of variables when it comes to setting plans for Fall 2020. What are three of the most significant considerations guiding your decision making with respect to student housing?
Donna L. Hight, Ph.D., Assistant Dean, Student Success
The Ohio State University at Mansfield
This is a challenging question to answer. Our campus has two sets of apartments—one privatized and one owned by the University. Both sets of apartments can accommodate as few as two and as many as eight people in an apartment. We have talked about reducing to one person per bedroom on campus, but students will still share common areas like living rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry. These units are cleaned by those who live in them, not by the University, so there is an issue certainly with sanitizing surfaces multiple people will touch. The privatized housing is run by a company well experienced in contracted campus housing, but it is owned locally by a group of business people who need to recoup their investment.
To deal with already declining enrollment in the Midwest, the privatized complex comprises partially local rentals and partially students. The local rental market has proven to be more lucrative than the college housing market to date, so I worry we will see more and more locals mixed with students. Between this and unit cleaning issues, I anticipate roommate issues could escalate considerably.
My greatest concern, when we cannot gather in large groups, is how we build the intentional community necessary for student enrollment, success, and persistence. Our students tend to be 17-20 years of age and like to gather in large numbers for socializing. We remain quite uncertain how we will enforce social distancing, masks, dining services, movement around campus, use of support facilities outside of the classroom, staff and faculty presence on campus, etc. and know that simultaneously we will need to supplement community building activities via technology 2020-2021 proves to be a very challenging year!
Kevin Bailey, Ph.D., Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
University of North Carolina, Charlotte
The overarching consideration is the safety of our students and the community. Everything else flows from there. The CDC proclaims that a vaccine is not in the offing for Fall semester yet clinical trials are in progress. This leaves campuses to rely on systematic and regular testing as the path forward to resume face-to-face instruction and in-person campus life. The uncertainty of cost, availability and frequency still looms large. More within our control is our ability to be rabidly vigilant in cleaning common areas and high touch surfaces like door handles and elevator buttons, redefine rules about the use of common areas and guests, communicate expectations to residents and their parents, make hand sanitizer ubiquitous and establish criteria for when wearing a face covering is compulsory. This sea change is our now-normal and everyone must do their part for the good of the community.
Regardless of the availability of a vaccine, testing and rabid cleaning, another consideration has to be the provision of isolation or quarantine housing. For some campuses, this means taking revenue beds offline for this purpose. Other campuses may have to stand up their own version of a field hospital on the floor of the gym, erect a tent or contract with local hotels. In any case the prevailing question, without an answer based in best practice or prior experience, is how many beds do you reserve for this inevitability? As many as you can? A percent of the residential population? Regardless of the answer, there may not be enough beds. Then what?
Finally, the move-in process must adhere to social distancing guidelines. Many campuses have already had experience with a socially distant move-out process but move-in is different, particularly for incoming students, who can bring the entire extended family to celebrate the student’s entry into college life and living on their own. How do you engage move-in volunteers in a socially distant manner? How long will move in take given social distancing?
There are complex questions with no simple answers. What we know today will change tomorrow. With a mere three months before students start returning to campus, a gargantuan task is before us. Not everyone will be happy with the decisions that are made. In the end, we are all doing our best with the information we have. Good luck to us all!
Dr. Renee’ T. Watson, Associate Vice President for Campus Life
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Planning for fall semester reentry is underway. Members of the Incident Management Team were tasked to develop plans for considering what action steps would need to be taken across campus to resume face-to-face interaction in the fall semester. We will work under the direction of the Governor, CDC guidelines, Southern Nevada Health District, and the White House. At this point, we have determined that summer housing for sessions I and II will not be offered along with the cancellation of summer conferences, which is an additional financial loss.
For university housing this means looking at the number of beds we can offer in the fall by limiting to single and double occupancy for housing inventory while maintaining 90% occupancy. Then, we must determine how to move to a new model where singles/doubles are the same price regardless of building to lessen the financial hardship on residents. Alternatively, we have university housing personnel drafting a report to show the potential financial loss if the decision is made not to assign all rooms. This will account for the number of resident assistants and student security needed given the proposed housing configurations and scenarios. In addition, we are developing plans for the resident assistants work the front desk to reduce costs from having a separate team of desk workers to perform this service. Likewise, we have university housing setting aside rooms for residents who may transmit the virus and who need to remain in isolation.
From a health and safety perspective, we have considered whether senior housing officers should purchase personal protective equipment for all employees. If so, how much protective gear would be purchased and for how long? Would this protective gear be centrally funded from the university or come from the university housing budget? In addition, we must consider what responsibility we have for purchasing facial coverings for residents and enforcing that residents wear these masks or be sanctioned under the student code of conduct for failing to abide by the policy. We even discussed if university housing officers should purchase thermometers to help students self-monitor their overall health, and to help residents determine when they need to seek medical attention. In the end, we decided not to go with this option. Alternatively, Police Services has installed a COVID-19 Self- Assessment in conjunction with the Rebel Safe App for students, faculty, and staff to use which provides guidance in terms of what steps to take next when individuals do not feel well or exhibit virus symptoms.
With respect to university housing furniture, we had to consider what furniture would we remove from public spaces and lounge areas to avoid residents and guests from loitering? How would the university provide storage for the large quantity of items to store? Would this result in another university housing expense or funded centrally from the business and administration area for the university?
Senior housing officials also had to develop a plan in case live-in staff became infected with the virus. How would they maintain operations with staff members unable to work with students, their colleagues, and potentially transmitting the virus to their loved ones who reside with them in university housing?
From a facilities standpoint, we had to develop a plan for cleaning and disinfecting all spaces using Hospital Grade Health Disinfectant. In addition, be sure to use high quality air filters in public and resident rooms which are changed quarterly. Likewise, we had to ensure that Student Affairs Maintenance would be available Monday – Friday 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. to assist with work orders in Housing, Student Union, Student Recreation and Wellness, and Dining Services. In addition, provide after hours and weekend coverage via on call basis.
The Student Affairs Maintenance team would install Plexiglas sneeze guards in all public-facing and transactional spaces (front desks) while continuing to work on quotes for ordering gloves, masks, hand sanitizer/sanitizer stations for all entryways, increase cleaning and disinfecting supplies at all residence hall desks and training, and information on how to use these supplies for all staff. While the Campus Life Technology team would continue to be available to staff, students and residents remotely through June.
In a similar vein, senior housing officials worked with food services to develop a plan for cleaning and disinfecting all spaces. Installing Plexiglas/ sneeze guards in POD market area. Explore avenues to disinfect credit/debit/ID cards before and after ‘swiping’, and financially to develop a contract to review every 90 days the weekly rate to maintain food service, pay for labor, and materials in proportion to the number of residents we have.
Senior housing officials had to update the lease agreement to incorporate language that allows for flexible terms, if needed (i.e. early termination, liability for sick students, etc.). For instance, we needed to include language that clearly delineates refunds during a forced closure (when, how much, etc.), insert an acknowledgement or informed consent of living with others in denser housing situation (if we return to business as usual or some form of shared room space), and include a requirement to leave campus at own expense if sick.
We updated our Community Standards when residents fail to comply and jeopardize the Health/Safety of Self/Others. This involved reviewing the guest visitation policy to determine who can or cannot visit, who and when. In addition, consider incorporating a lock down with no guests, only guests from that building, only guests during the day, as another possible option to maintain the health and safety of our students and staff. With respect to housing accommodations work with the Disability Resource Center to describe appropriate health-related “conditions” that would result in housing accommodations (I.e., immune suppressed or compromised) and the resulting accommodations.
Finally, we examined staff training needs in terms of how to instruct student workers and staff to engage with residents and guests by maintaining social distancing. Due to the nature of this virus, most of the training will likely have to occur online. This presents a unique challenge to offer training through a virtual mode of learning, which is not the traditional way of training new and returning resident assistants and student security who are accustomed to intense in person training to prepare all staff to engage with residents.
In summary, there will be some areas and topics that we will have to monitor as information and direction is given to us from cabinet level administration. Furthermore, we realize that we will have to hold off on making other decisions as we continue to receive public health updates and understand the overall financial impact as a result of COVID-19. Nevertheless, I feel that UNLV university housing has done its due diligence in creating plans for every area covered, to safeguard our residents, staff and overall campus community. Plus, maintain a workplace environment that values the personal health and well-being for all university employees.