Sarah-Jane Lorenzo writes for the Martin Center about challenges tied to the upcoming semester in higher education.

Universities’ frantic struggles to create fall semester plans that bring students back to campus often hinge on social distancing.

While students are excited about the promise of an on-campus fall, many detailed university plans have made it clear that freshman year will hardly resemble the bustling experience it was before.

Instead, strict social distancing standards may set the stage for an isolating semester.

Most reopening plans rely heavily on keeping students separate, even in on-campus scenarios that would otherwise bring them together to socialize or learn. For example, the University of Virginia recently announced that it will give students the option to return for a mix of online and in-person learning. While small classes will be held in socially distanced on-campus spaces, all large lecture classes—a staple of many majors—will be held online.

Students will be required to wear masks and social distance everywhere except for inside their individual dorm rooms, in which only they and their roommates will be allowed. Common spaces will be closed.

UVA’s plan is typical of many universities as they try to balance their interest in providing an on-campus experience with ensuring the safety of their students and the local community. Many schools are taking their restrictions even further by de-densifying dorm rooms. For students sharing rooms, the CDC recommends using plexiglass or plastic partitions to separate beds.

With restrictions like those in place, socializing on campus will hardly resemble anything that students have experienced before. Despite schools’ best efforts to maintain community through online events and adapted residential programing, a socially distanced fall may raise the risk that students have trouble adjusting, both socially and academically. …

… [N]ot all students are so convinced that an in-person fall will be worthwhile.