American universities are in a tight spot. When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, almost all of them closed their campuses and switched to online instruction.
Result? Students filed hundreds of lawsuits against the colleges, claiming–rightly in my opinion–that online teaching is inferior to face-to-face instruction and wasn’t what they paid for. In many of these cases, students were paying tuition priced north of $25,000 a semester, yet they could not personally interact with a single professor.
Now, as the 2021 fall semester approaches, colleges must decide what to do. Basically, they have three choices:
First, they can continue with online instruction, hoping that students will consent to another year of taking courses on their home computers.
Second, colleges can reopen their campuses but require students to wear masks and maintain social distancing. But such a policy imposes onerous burdens on students, which many of them probably won’t accept.
Third, colleges and universities can reopen their campuses for face-to-face learning while insisting that all students get the COVID vaccine.
In my opinion, most colleges have no real choice–they’ve got to get professors and students back in the classroom under more or less normal conditions, and they’ve got to require everyone in the campus community–students, instructors, and staff– to get vaccinated.
If colleges continue teaching in an online format, they will experience significant losses in enrollment. Why? Because online learning sucks, and everyone knows it.
A recent report by the Brookings Institution confirmed what everybody already knew: “Online coursework generally yields worse student performance than in-person course work.” Moreover, the Brookings researchers reported, “The negative effects of online course-taking are particularly pronounced for less academically prepared students and for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees.”
College bureaucrats may worry about getting sued if they make professors and students get vaccinated. But the Seventh Circuit, in a decision issued in early August, ruled that Indiana University can require its students to be vaccinated as a condition of enrollment.
So–the bottom line is this–universities have the legal authority to require students to get vaccinated against COVID and refuse admission to students who won’t get their shots.
And that’s what they had better do. Because students and their parents won’t put up with another year of online instruction that costs 25 grand a semester.