What might college look like? Face masks, single-room dorms, staggered classes and even a short fall semester

University of Florida
University of Florida campus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Students, faculty and staff would be required to wear face masks until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, kids could be in single-room dorms, and classes would be staggered to maintain social distancing, according to recommendations Wednesday by a higher education group.

Those recommendations and more come as college campuses across Florida are trying to safely reopen in the fall — an effort by the United Faculty of Florida and the Florida Education Association, both unions, which created committees to come up with guidelines.

Members of the higher education committee recommended more hybrid classes, meaning remote learning or traditional classes on campus, as well as  reduced class sizes and staggered attendance for face-to-face classes in order to maintain social distancing.

The group also suggested shortening fall semester to 12 weeks for students living on campus. “This will prevent them going home, returning to campus infected, then infecting more students before everyone disperses for winter break,” according to the committee’s report.

As for requiring face masks, the committee stated: “Masks should be provided at the entrance to every building for those who need them. It is the responsibility of the college/university to ensure students/faculty/staff have access to masks.”

Colleges and universities should also offer more tutoring services to students who are struggling with academics, and boost mental health programs, according to the committee’s guidelines.

The committee underscored the increased need for students to readily access “Student Assistance Programs” if they’ve experienced any trauma from COVID-19 or other issues, which would require a boost in hiring staff.

“All staff and faculty should be trained in how to identify students struggling with trauma, and how to refer them to campus mental health professionals for additional support,” the committee stated.

The United Faculty of Florida and the Florida Education Association formed the Higher Education Re-Opening Committee, a diverse group of students, parents, mental and public health professionals, former trustees, faculty and more.

The committee released its 13-page recommendations during a Zoom meeting on Wednesday, with a goal of helping public colleges and universities come up with individual plans to reopen their campuses in the fall.

“We know they’ve (colleges and universities) sort of been left to create their own plans…we feel like there’s a lot of good building blocks in it,” Karen Morian, UFF president, said in the meeting.

And as previously reported by the Florida Phoenix, the group suggested reserving on-campus housing for freshmen, seniors, and graduate students — but not sophomores and juniors — to cut down on the number of students on campus.

In terms of finances, the group wants to ensure there will be no funding cuts to academics or research, and additional funding should be used for necessary staff increases and other measures.

The group’s recommendations will be presented to colleges and universities, and the report will be sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials.