As a majority of colleges opened their campuses this semester for some level of in-person instruction, they tweaked their academic calendars, streamlining the schedule to limit how often students travel to and from school. The resulting plan for almost every school in the country is a semester that either ends or goes remote after Thanksgiving, to keep students from traveling home and back just a week later.
Now, barely halfway through the semester, students at some schools are hearing that in-person classes are canceled after Thanksgiving, leaving them scrambling to make plans on short notice. Others who had a heads-up on the shortened semester are buckling under the stress of having almost no time off since starting classes in August and September, and are clamoring to figure out how to safely get back home from campuses that have been hotbeds for COVID-19 outbreaks.
Arizona State University—where more than 1,852 students have tested positive since August 1—alerted students on a Friday afternoon in mid-September that all in-person and hybrid classes will move completely online after Thanksgiving, and finals week will be bumped up by one week. The updated finals schedule means some students are now taking all of their final exams in a single day. New Mexico State recently decided to shorten its on-campus semester, telling students just this week that they’ll finish their semesters online and off campus after Thanksgiving. Tufts also recently issued a travel advisory that requires any student who travels home for Thanksgiving to stay there.
Some schools, like the University of Texas and University of Michigan, planned for online classes after Thanksgiving all along and revealed plans for a shortened fall semester back in June. Others, like the University of North Carolina and Iowa State, are cramming an entire semester into less than four months, and will hold final exams in the days leading up to Thanksgiving so students will be completely done with the fall semester by the end of November.
While a convenient way for campuses to avoid even more coronavirus cases, and perhaps the only reasonable arrangement for schools that had already decided to reopen amid the pandemic, the shortened semester means millions of students will be forced to travel back to their hometowns on Thanksgiving weekend, typically the busiest period for travel in the year.
Of course it would be much worse for schools to continue on-campus learning after Thanksgiving. Once colleges made the decision to reopen at all, which subjected thousands of students to outbreaks that experts predicted, and killed some students along the way, closing down after Thanksgiving seems among of the best of a range of less-than-ideal options.
Ideally, students will travel safely (or as safely as possible, given that non-essential travel is still inadvisable) and find a way to quarantine upon arriving home. How they’ll reconcile the need to isolate and avoid infecting family members with anything they may have picked up along the way home with enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner is beyond me, but best of luck!
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