Boston University Is First To Announce It May Postpone Its Fall Term Until January 2021
Boston University appears to be the first American college or university to announce that it may not re-open its campus until January 2021. If public health officials deem it unsafe for students to congregate, the campus could remain closed until the start of next year.
BU, a private residential research university with 33,000 students that traces its roots to 1839, revealed its contingency plan on BU Today, a news site managed by its communications department. Since it closed its campus on Sunday, March 22, BU president Robert Brown has convened five working groups who are all contributing to a COVID-19 “Recovery Plan.” They include a group that is examining remote learning and another focused on residential life.
The BU Today article says the January start date would happen in the “unlikely event” that health officials advise that social distancing should extend through the fall. But it is still significant that a major U.S. university is making public the possibility that face-to-face classes could be delayed for as long as nine months. BU has also canceled all its in-person summer classes.
Richard Ekman, president of the non-profit Council of Independent Colleges, says that some of the 659 colleges in his group have begun quietly to consider whether they too will have to postpone campus openings. Some are discussing start date delays of a month. Others are looking at more extended closures. “They’re all waiting to get better health information,” he says.
Roughly one third of those small colleges have cash reserves that would be depleted in less than half a year if they were not able to collect tuition and other revenue from enrolled students. “If they had no income for six months, those schools would be in trouble,” he says.
Even if colleges can reopen in the fall, enrollments are likely to be down since many families have taken a huge financial hit and students may opt to delay college or to attend less expensive public or community colleges.
At BU, the working groups are also examining what will have to happen when on-campus classes can finally resume. “[T]his is not going to be as simple as flipping a switch and getting back to business as usual,” says BU President Brown. “Starting that planning now is a necessity.”