There are a sizeable number of colleges and universities planning to open their campuses for the fall term. Most have talked about their plans for making the campus safe for students, faculty, and staff.
But what about off-campus?
Are all of the local businesses consistently operating safely, so they are minimizing the risk of COVID-19?
Or is it a bit of a free-for-all? And does that mean any off-campus travel is likely to lead to a higher risk of infection on-campus?
And let’s not forget about off-campus housing.
Are the landlords and property management companies taking precautions to ensure their renters – your students – are safe? Or is it likely that those students living off-campus will infect students living on campus as well as faculty and staff?
Nothing is 100% perfect, but is there something that you can do with your community to improve the chances of safety for your students, faculty, and staff?
Hold Meetings with the Community, including Local, County and State Officials. Now, more than ever, is the time for communication with your community’s leaders. Discuss what your institution plans to do at this moment in time, and even your contingency plans.
Make sure everyone is clear about the local, county, and state requirements. And discuss what everyone is and isn’t doing.
If there is a way for your institution to help the local community, make it happen if it will help keep students, faculty, and staff safe while also helping the community get through this pandemic.
These should be regular meetings for the foreseeable future, with agendas and data to help maximize the effectiveness of everyone’s time and focus on key metrics from the community—for example, new cases in your community (zip code), possible hot spots, and more.
And if some “leaders” don’t participate, perhaps they need to be replaced with others that understand the importance and serious nature facing the community?
Establish guidelines that meet local, county, state, and federal guidelines – if not more. There is nothing wrong with being a little cautious in times of considerable uncertainty, so discuss with the community leaders the possibility of above and beyond existing guidelines. If this were to happen, it’s also a great message to share with parents, students, faculty, staff, and the local population.
Check to ensure the enforcement of guidelines. Guidelines are helpful, but as we have seen, some people will choose to ignore them. That’s why there should be a process for ensuring everyone is enforcing the agreed-upon guidelines for your campus and community.
Work with your community leaders to establish a process that includes rewards for those complying and appropriate measures for those that do not comply. Remember that this isn’t about punishment; it’s all about doing what’s best for the community, so find out why some are struggling to comply and, if possible, have the community find ways to help overcome those issues. And have those that are doing great work share their tips and best practices so everyone else can benefit.
Modify your campus testing plan based on community action and results. You know this is highly likely, but from these meetings and conversations, you should also be able to identify potential threats that warrant modifications to your campus plans. Remember, it’s better to see a threat coming so you can prepare and respond appropriately rather than getting caught off guard and reacting amid possible chaos.
Communicating with students, parents, faculty, and staff. Part of your ongoing communications with your students, parents, faculty, and staff should include the work this community group is doing. You may consist of updates on performance, so your audiences understand who is doing an exceptional job of keeping people safe – with the hope that everyone supports and frequents those places.
A Few Closing Thoughts
All of these suggestions require extra work – but if done correctly, the extra work spent on these things could save lives and help keep your campus open.
This extra work can also help parents feel better about their decision to send their children to your campus – and you know they will be sharing that information with other parents with children searching for a college. And this extra work can help make spring enrollments a lot stronger.
And this extra work can help you retain faculty and staff, as well as recruit new faculty and staff.
Just like the old saying, “anything worth having is worth fighting for.”