Citing the rise in coronavirus cases both in Baltimore and nationwide, Johns Hopkins University and Loyola University Maryland became the latest colleges to announce that they would offer only online classes to undergraduates this fall.
Hopkins officials said Thursday that the increased prevalence of infections among younger people, plus the fact that many of its students come from states considered COVID-19 hot spots, led them to reverse earlier plans to resume at least some instruction and activities on its Homewood campus in North Baltimore.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic is clearly worsening,” Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels and other administrators said in a letter to students Thursday. “We are experiencing a second surge in cases in our region and in other areas of the country.
“We have concluded that returning in person would pose unacceptable risks for you, our faculty and staff, and our neighbors in Baltimore,” the letter said.
Earlier Thursday, Loyola University Maryland announced that all instruction would be online this fall.
Other schools have come to similar conclusions: Goucher College said last week that it would not offer on-campus classes. Baltimore City Community College also has opted for online-only classes. Even schools that will have some in-person instruction say the vast majority of courses will be taught online.
The University System of Maryland, with 12 institutions and three regional higher ed centers, is generally following a hybrid model of online and in-person instruction, and last week mandated that all students and staff coming to its campuses be tested for the virus. The University of Baltimore has decided to go fully online.
Loyola’s president, the Rev. Brian F. Linnane, pointed to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, the availability of testing and the turnaround times for results as contributing to the decision. Expectations of the virus dying down over the summer did not materialize, he said in a post Thursday on the college’s website.
“That transition would have given us the opportunity to open the University as scheduled,” Linnane said. “Unfortunately, the data have proven that did not happen.”
Hopkins said it will reduce undergraduate tuition, which is about $28,500 a semester, by 10% for the fall.
When classes begin Aug. 31, the Homewood campus, which normally hosts 5,000 undergrads will be decidedly quieter than past years. Some limited activity will remain, such as in research labs that are operating at lower densities and with other safety and distancing measures. Graduate programs also will largely go remote with a few exceptions.
Dr. Tom Inglesby, who directs the Center for Health Security at the Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the combination of several trends both locally and nationally, particularly as they affect younger populations contributed to the decision to keep the campus largely closed.
The daily rate of new infections has gone from about 10 per 100,000 population in Baltimore in June to 28 per 100,000 currently, said Inglesby, who has been advising both Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Hopkins administrators throughout the pandemic.
“We also were concerned that approaching a third of the students are coming from places experiencing their own resurging epidemics,” Inglesby said.
“At this point, a lot of the spread is in the young-adult category,” he said.
Hopkins previously announced that students at its public health school and the Peabody Conservatory, both in Baltimore, and the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington would take all their classes remotely.
Alanna W. Shanahan, vice provost for student affairs at Hopkins, called the decision “painstaking and heartbreaking.”
But bringing students and faculty back on campus, and to Baltimore, was just too risky for both Hopkins and the city, she said.
“It just was not worth it for anybody,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan said some students will be allowed to live on campus under special and limited circumstances, such as if their homes are not conducive to learning or they suffer from food insecurity. Hopkins will offer financial assistance to students who may incur expenses from staying home, or who have bought nonrefundable plane tickets or can’t get out of leases they signed for off-campus housing.
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Shanahan said she hopes much of what is missed this fall can be transferred to spring, such as classes that require a lab component, for example, and the new friendships and “community building” that make up so much of the first-year experience.
In the final weeks before college students across the country were scheduled to move into their dormitories for the academic year, many schools decided to abandon earlier plans to offer a hybrid model of instruction in which at least some classes would meet on campus.
The Chronicle of Higher Education found that fewer than half the 1,260 schools it has been tracking were going to reopen their campuses in the fall, compared with about three-quarters who had planned at least some in-person courses and activities back in May.
While the window is closing for deciding whether to allow on-campus instruction this fall, schools say they’re continuing to monitor the ever-changing public health landscape.
Noting that many in the region, such as Georgetown, George Washington and American universities in Washington, are going the all-online route, Inglesby said colleges need to be guided by the course of the pandemic.
“I would say that it’s important for people making decisions,” he said, “to understand all the data.”
Shanahan agreed: “You have to keep your ear to the ground.”