Maryland College Life: Is Reopening Happening?

Amira Cooper

College life has changed dramatically since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Austin Taro)

The pandemic has changed a lot in day-to-day life, especially for college students. College students have switched to online learning, and some people are still getting adjusted to it. With the hope that college life will return to normal after the pandemic is handled, there is also the worry that remote learning might become a permanent norm even with vaccination rates on the rise.

President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 stimulus package was revealed to have a main focus on reopening schools in the United States, asking for almost $170 billion from Congress to fund this initiative, Rebecca Klein, a writer for HuffPost, reports. While this stimulus plan only focuses on K-12 rather than college and beyond, it is important to note that it has pushed colleges to think about their next steps in class offerings, whether that is staying remote or returning to in-person meetings.

In Maryland, the CBS Baltimore Staff reports that Governor Larry Hogan wants K-12 schools to move into hybrid learning as early as March 1. Hogan said that “there was “no public health reason” to keep kids out of schools due to COVID-19, adding that virtual learning could lead to significant learning losses, especially among students of color and those from low-income families.” While his sentiments are in the right place, health risks due to COVID-19 are still at large. 

Ciara Linnane, a writer for MarketWatchreminds the American public that “The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus-borne illness, COVID-19, climbed above 518,000 on Thursday.” The risks and dangers of COVID-19 are far from over and people need to remember that.

Even with the promise of vaccines, the uncertainty in education continues to grow, not just for K-12 students but for Maryland college students as well.

Maryland colleges should wait to reopen in-person learning. We’re in a public health crisis, no one should be rushing to put themselves in danger.”

— Finn Clemens

Finn Clemens, an HCC sophomore, doesn’t believe that schools and colleges should be reopening at all yet. “Maryland colleges should wait to reopen in-person learning,” Clemens said. “We’re in a public health crisis, no one should be rushing to put themselves in danger.”

Contrary to Clemens’ beliefs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are actually on board with colleges and universities reopening in a safe manner. There are a set of guidelines that the CDC created to offer more insight into their decision.

However, this does not mean that the CDC is mandating the reopening of schools and colleges, NPR writers Cory Turner, Anya Kamenetz, and Tamara Keith report. “The CDC explains that proper mitigation can help keep kids and staff safe at school.” They are just offering different options depending on a school’s area, “even in hard-hit communities, though it also warns that schools lulled into a false sense of security because of low community transmission rates could still spread the virus if they don’t enforce mask-wearing and socially distanced classrooms.”

While state leaders such as Governor Hogan see the CDC’s guidance as the green light for reopening, others such as the staff at the schools and colleges do not. They want vaccines to be distributed before a reopening occurs.

Jessie Gordon, a sophomore at Howard Community College, thinks otherwise. Gordon believes that the vaccine offers hope, but it also offers false security to the people who believe they will instantly be COVID-19 free. She explains that there is “no guarantee on exactly how well it would work and for what duration of time…so I feel cautiously optimistic and I think others should too.”

Clemens agrees with Gordon that most colleges will “probably take widespread vaccine usage as their cue to reopen and Howard Community College might as well, but that doesn’t mean that the pandemic will quickly disappear.”

Governor Larry Hogan has expressed hid desire for all Maryland schools to reopen. (Maryland GovPics)

Most Maryland colleges are being cautious with their reopening plans, but some are planning to reopen once the pandemic has settled. However, what that means for college life is uncertain. “There will be some important lasting impacts,” Nicole Davis, a writer for The New York Times, reports. Rather than higher education, or college life, going back to what it used to be pre-COVID, it would transform and integrate into something new with technology at its forefront.

Some classes might be permanently delivered online, depending on their performance during the pandemic. Davis also includes thoughts from Dr. Vijay Govindarajan, a professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, on how we shouldn’t be dismissing the progress we made technologically during the pandemic, but embracing it instead.

“Let’s take advantage of this moment to start a larger conversation,” Dr. Govindarajan says, “we had better not lose this opportunity.”

University of Maryland, UMD, is switching their in-person classes to remote classes, limiting on-campus students, and isolating their on-campus living students within their dorms. While UMD is not distributing the vaccine like HCC is, they are still informing their students on where they can get the vaccine once it is their turn. Despite UMD’s efforts, there has been an increase of 95 cases during the week of February 14th to February 20th on UMD’s campus.

University of Maryland, Baltimore County, UMBC, has not changed their plans much. Most of their classes are remote and UMBC has not pushed to reopen at the time or in the near future.

Howard Community College, HCC, has remained diligent as well but has not revealed any plans about reopening. Remote learning and hybrid classes remain the foundation of HCC’s education during the pandemic and it does not look like the plan will change.

In contrast, some Maryland schools are thinking of reopening, but there have been few updates about whether that goal was actually accomplished.

Focusing on Howard Community College’s opening plan, HCC’s Executive Director of Public Relations and Marketing, Elizabeth Homan, lends some insight.

“As we plan for this summer and fall 2021,” she stated, “the HCC reopening committee and its academic affairs area is meeting to identify how best to increase the opportunities for hybrid classes and services on campus, while also maintaining the health, safety, and well-being of students, faculty, and staff. As plans are finalized, they will be shared with students.”

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Plans are not finalized, as Homan states, but it is clear that HCC is maintaining utmost caution with the introduction of vaccines and the possibility of reopening.

Much like Clemens and Gordon, the possibility of reopening Maryland colleges seems distant according to HCC freshman, Kelsey Tun.

Tun was thrown into remote learning as soon as she started at Howard Community College and it has been working for her, but she wishes she could have experienced on-campus learning. She “can’t wait to get the vaccine” in order to get a sense of normalcy. With her sophomore year approaching, Tun would personally prefer to continue remote learning in the comfort of her home until the COVID-19 threat is handled.

Tun adds, “I would love to have an in-person graduation, well I’m hoping to, but I don’t want to give myself false hope. Reopening should not be rushed, but that is what is happening in Maryland; we’re rushing.”