Students consider taking fall semester off as they await American University’s decision
Some worry about increased risks, others are concerned about challenges online classes could present
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on theeaglecoronavirusproject.com, a separate website created by Eagle staff at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020. Articles from that website have been migrated to The Eagle’s main site and backdated with the dates they were originally published in order to allow readers to access them more easily.
As students await American University’s announcement on how it will operate this fall, many feel uncertain and are weighing their options on whether to attend classes online, in person or even take the semester off.
Online learning created unique difficulties for some students this past spring, forcing many to reconsider their return if classes take place online. Cassidy Nelson, a rising junior in the School of Communication, said that if AU stays fully online, she plans to take a semester off.
“I'm a film major,” Nelson said. “So I feel my studies online are kind of useless, as well as a lot of [other] art[s] majors. We aren't getting the in-person studies we need, whereas [with] a lot of other majors — while in person studying is important — you don't necessarily need the hands-on experience.”
Other students said they would feel pressured to continue with online classes because of their major. Kada Jackel, a rising junior, said that being in the School of Education makes it difficult for her to take a semester off.
“I completely understand people taking a leave of absence from classes for the fall, and if I weren't a School of Education major, I would totally do that,” Jackel said. “We only have certain semesters that we’re allowed to take certain classes, so I’m not even given that option to take off if I want to.”
Some also cited finances as part of the reason they would consider taking a semester off. AU charges $25,271 in tuition alone for full-time students taking less than 18 credits.
“To me, online classes are not worth the tuition I pay per semester,” said rising junior Kier Lewman. “As cliché as it may sound, I only have four years of college that I’m taking out loans for, at my expense, to have a college experience and it only happens once.”
The University said they will speak with The Eagle after they finalize fall plans.
Rising sophomore Peyton Proksch, who said she hopes the fall semester is entirely online, also fears missing out on “the college experience.”
“So many people want to go back for parties and clubs and live in the dorms and get to see their friends, but I don’t know how safe I’d feel doing all that stuff,” Proksch said. “That’s so much of the college experience, it wouldn’t even be the same. So why not just wait until it’s fully safe to go back?”
Students are also concerned about possibly exposing the greater D.C. community, which has been heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Being in D.C., and having a connection with such a wide population, is the biggest thing that would make me question going back,” Proksch said. ”I don’t want to not go into the city for the whole semester, but that’s the biggest chance for us to infect people outside the AU community and for us to get infected and bring it into the AU community.”
Many colleges have made tentative decisions about how and if they will return to have in-person classes. Some schools, such as the University of South Carolina, Notre Dame, Rice and Creighton, are shortening their fall semester to avoid a potential “second wave.”
Schools across the DMV have wrestled with how to bring students back to campus. ReOpen DC, the four stage approach for D.C. to reopen, is still under Phase One. Under this phase, universities in D.C. cannot resume on campus activities. As the city moves to subsequent stages, universities will be able to reopen under an approved plan by the city.
Both Catholic University and George Washington University plan to resume in person but are still considering other possibilities. Howard University is exploring a hybrid of in person and online classes for the first part of the semester and then having students do the rest virtually after Thanksgiving break. Trinity Washington University released a plan to have 62 percent of all courses delivered online in fall and the rest of classes as a mix of hybrid and face-to-face classes. Schools such as Georgetown University have yet to release their plans.
Some AU students said that they are less fearful because of President Sylvia Burwell’s experience as former Health and Human Services Secretary under the Obama Administration.
“If there was anyone I’d like to have making these decisions in a pandemic, it’s her, because she definitely knows what she’s doing,” Proksch said.
The University is set to announce its fall plans in mid-June.