LYNNFIELD — With fewer than five weeks to go before most colleges and universities are set to begin fall semester, five Lynnfield High alumni represent a nation of undergraduate students struggling to continue with higher education.
Some schools, such as Harvard University, have opted to go fully remote for the fall in the wake of the coronavirus, allowing only 40 percent of undergraduates (their first-year students) to live on campus. Other schools, including Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., are prepared to welcome their students back to campus for a mix of in-person and online classes.
“Classes that are over 30 people are going to be [all] online,” said VCU sophomore Ashley Barrett. “But certain majors, like engineering, are going to be hybrid.”
Barrett is also part of another student demographic — she, along with twin sister Brianna, are just two of many student athletes scheduled to move in Aug. 4.
“I’m a little nervous [to play],” said the field hockey forward. “But hopefully with all of the precautions we’ll be fine as long as we stay within all the rules.”
Barrett said that each day, she will have to fill out a health form reporting any symptoms and have her temperature taken.
Mac Schena, an incoming freshman at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y., finds herself in a similar position regarding testing as she prepares to head off to campus.
“[Syracuse] is doing a spit test for each floor, and then if the one test from that floor comes back positive, they’re going through and testing every single person [on that floor],” Schena said.
COVID-19 testing isn’t the only restriction on students who are planning to return to campus. There are no-visitor policies at VCU, Syracuse, and Boston University.
BU sophomore Justin Nardella has access to his school’s extensive “Learn from Anywhere” program, allowing students to return to campus for a mix of in-person and online classes, should they choose. Nardella is opting for online only.
“I do anticipate online classes to be more difficult than in-person classes,” said Nardella. “But my plan is to live at home and travel to campus a couple of times per week since I am fortunate enough to live within 30 minutes of Boston.”
There is also the question of dining hall access facing freshmen, such as Schena and High Point University freshman Ashley Sjoberg, who won’t have access to their own kitchens.
“I will have to get a dining plan because I need food, but I think they’re doing outdoor seating and only a few to a table,” said Sjoberg.
According to its website, HPU, located in North Carolina, has a total undergraduate population of 4,500. All classes will be in-person, albeit with social distancing measures and mandatory mask-wearing, said Sjoberg. In comparison, VCU’s website states its total undergraduate population is 23,172.
Endicott College in Beverly plans to be a fully residential campus in the fall, much like HPU. While Sjoberg doesn’t have the option to commute, Endicott junior Cooper Marengi does.
“I’ve been talking about commuting a lot with my mom and my dad recently,” Marengi said. He raises a sticking point for many students and parents alike. “Why am I going to pay full tuition to go take online classes or see no more than nine people in the same spot?”
Though Endicott currently has no intention of online learning, its website does reveal tentative plans to repurpose campus common areas to better accommodate social distancing guidelines. As Marengi foresaw, that’s university-speak for an indefinite end to students’ social lives.
Marengi’s younger brother, Clayton, was set to play football at Endicott as a freshman this fall. Endicott has since delayed the season into 2021, though the boys’ parents, Kristine and David, remain optimistic about the situation as a whole.
“We do feel comfortable as parents sending them to college in the fall,” Kristine said. “The mental, physical, and educational consequences of keeping my kids behind a computer all day in their bedroom is why we’re leaning this way. They’re excited and eager to get back to normal life, and we have confidence in knowing they will both do it as safely as possible.”