Sarah-Jane Lorenzo writes for the Martin Center about higher education’s response to the COVID-19 health scare.

In the span of a few days, coronavirus has upended American higher education. More than 400 colleges have canceled classes or moved them online to slow the virus’s spread. While some schools hope that the shift will be temporary, others have confirmed that in-person classes and events will be canceled for the rest of the semester.

The nationwide closures mark what could easily be the most massive and sudden shake-up of higher education to date. For many students and faculty alike, the swift switch to online learning has cast dramatic uncertainty on the rest of the school year.

The uniting theme of university announcements last week has been one of proactive precaution. As university leaders monitor the evolving risk of coronavirus outbreaks hitting their campuses, many have made decisions motivated by concerns that an on-campus outbreak would overwhelm local health facilities, especially as supplies of masks and coronavirus test kits remain low.

Locally, the University of North Carolina system, Duke University, and Elon University have all canceled in-person classes and shifted to online learning.

Ohio State University president Michael Drake recognized that while the university’s switch to online instruction will present a “Herculean task,” he and other administrators felt an urgent need to act before the virus hit campus.