Several FL universities are planning for less face-to-face instruction and fewer kids in dorms this fall

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

Residential dorms and face-to-face instruction are cornerstones of campus life for college students, but their world will be different this fall.

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, several of Florida’s public universities plan to deliver less on-campus instruction this fall and put fewer kids in residential housing because of social distancing guidelines and safety measures.

In fact, several of the twelve public universities plan to cut off face-to-face instruction after Thanksgiving and shift to remote learning to complete final exams and projects in December, according to plans created by the universities.

How college students will feel about the changes is not certain, and it wouldn’t be unusual for some families to consider not enrolling their kids.

The state university system’s Board of Governors is meeting Tuesday, and its agenda shows that the twelve universities have released their individual plans – but not all are as detailed as others.

The plans highlight the areas of: “Healthy Campus Environment; Healthy Community Environment; COVID-19 Virus Testing; Contact Tracing and Surveillance and Academic Program Delivery.”

The plans for the most part focus on fall semester, and it’s not clear what will happen in the spring.

Most of the university plans included hybrid education models – both online and face-to-face classes – and a shift to online courses after the Thanksgiving break, to mitigate potential COVID-19 outbreaks from traveling during the holiday.

But the University of Florida, in Gainesville, will give students the option to return to campus after the Thanksgiving break. “Efforts are being made to enable return to campus after Thanksgiving break to be optional for as many students as possible,” UF’s plan states.

But if COVID-19 flares, “Faculty will be encouraged to design each course syllabus to enable students to not return to campus after Thanksgiving break, if they do not wish to do so,” UF said in its plan.

As to on-campus residential housing, UF will honor housing contracts for the fall, but a change to normal occupancy “is that the 111 rooms that normally house three students (triples) will house only two students.”

Across the board, face masks will be a part of everyday life.

Florida State University, for example, will require face masks for “all members of the university community as well as visitors.” And “noncompliance of requirements to wear face masks and practice social distancing may result in employee suspension or a referral to student behavior and/or academic review boards.”

As to campus residence halls, FSU said it will “decrease density in residence halls as much as possible by offering voluntary contract releases.”  The university has allowed full deposits back if students want to be released from their housing contracts.

And FSU’s academic plan will deliver hybrid classes and a mix of online and in-person instruction. The university will limit the number of people in classrooms by using only “25-50 percent of classroom space.”

The University of North Florida’s plan, in Jacksonville,  “will shift from having 75-80% of courses taught face-to-face… as was the case in previous years to a more even split in fall 2020, with an estimate of no more than 50% of courses delivered in-person to promote social distancing and limit potential transmission of the virus.”

Likewise, the University of North Florida will make adjustments in dorms, though “residence life is an important and vital component to the UNF student experience.”

UNF’s plans states: “Adjustments will include no more than two students per bedroom, no more than four students per bathroom, and private bedrooms for dorms with communal restrooms. Overall occupancy will be reduced some seven percent compared to normal occupancy rates and some eleven percent compared to fall 2019 occupancy rates.”

The Florida Education Association, in collaboration with the United Faculty of Florida, had formed a higher education committee to come up with guidelines to assist with universities’ individual plans.

However, not all colleges included faculty members on its reopening committees, said UFF President Karen Morian.

Florida A&M University, in Tallahassee, was among the universities that involved its faculty when coming up with plans, Morian said in a phone interview with the Florida Phoenix.

“The universities didn’t ask us anything, we provided them with our guidelines… I can tell you that some universities did have faculty involved in the reopening committees and some did not. Big schools like UF (University of Florida) and USF (University of South Florida) didn’t have faculty involved,” Morian said.

“The trend I am seeing is the ones (colleges) that took more time with plans had time to add more details (to the reopening plans),” she said.

FAMU mentioned an emergency plan in case of a second wave of COVID-19 infections. It said faculty, students, and staff would return to remote instruction in the spring.

FAMU also said that university housing occupancy has been reduced to 69% occupancy, by converting all double rooms to a single room in residence halls.

And it said that face-to-face instruction would end at Thanksgiving break.

University of West Florida said all face-to-face classroom instruction will conclude immediately before Thanksgiving break, and classes, review and final exams will be delivered remotely after Thanksgiving.

Florida Gulf Coast University intends for 50% of all courses to be offered in a face-to-face format, with priority given, for example, to undergraduate classes taken by new students, particularly incoming freshman.

At University of South Florida, “All student learning and final examinations will migrate to a quality online platform beginning November 28, 2020, and following Thanksgiving break, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 resulting from holiday-related travel.”

At New College of Florida, in Sarasota, “We will adjust the academic calendar for 14 weeks of regular classes prior to Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving break, exams and final projects will be completed remotely.”

As to housing, New College will eliminate all triple rooms and evaluate the feasibility of mandating single bedrooms, its plan states. The target occupancy rate for 2020-21 is 83.5%, lower than 96.5% in 2019-20.

University of Central Florida also will transition to remote instruction after Thanksgiving break.

In the counties of Miami-Dade and Broward — with the highest number of COVID-19 infections in the state, Florida International University in Miami and Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton did not address in their plans remote instruction taking place after Thanksgiving.