The school year is about to start for colleges and universities in Kansas, and pardon us if we all hold our breaths for the next few weeks.
The challenge ahead for the resumption of in-person education is huge. And while K-12 institutions face issues of their own, colleges have to grapple with young people living apart from their families for the first time. The pressure to defy rules and regulations about COVID-19 will be huge — and unfortunately the fate of the whole school years rests on their shoulders.
It shouldn’t be this way.
If we as a country had taken the pandemic truly seriously from the start, we could have reduced transmission rates to a level where normal activities across the country could resume with little trouble. Such is the case in Canada, in Europe, in nations across the world. In this alternate reality, the fate of in-person education for colleges wouldn’t come down to hormone-addled kids.
But it does here. Colleges are working to deploy testing capacity, which will be an important way to measure progress. Students will need to be tested relatively regularly, given their close quarters and interactions with older instructors.
Expectations must be crystal clear about masks and other protective measures. Consequences should also be widely understood and swiftly deployed against those who might flout the rules.
Even then, we wonder and hold our breaths. The college experience that thousands upon thousands are paying for isn’t about keeping one’s distance from others. It’s not about avoiding large groups of people and acting responsibly.
Indeed, the college experience as lived in the real world is often about pushing limits up to the absolute edge — and living in a community that recognizes you’re still not entirely an adult.
At Kansas State University, more than a dozen members of a fraternity tested positive for COVID-19 just one day after in-person classes began earlier this week.
Adapting this environment to a pandemic seems incredibly tough.
Colleges have a reason to try, though. The financial imperatives for the institutions and their staff members and communities are huge. The educational gains from in-person instruction are likewise meaningful. And everyone understands that we can’t stay closed forever.
So kids, here we are. We know you didn’t ask for this. We know that the federal government has failed you. We know that vaccines aren’t yet available. But we’re asking you, for this fall, to follow the rules. Help everyone in beating back the virus.
We know it won’t be fun — not fun in the same way college usually is. But we’re depending on you. Thanks.