Colleges scrap spring break to limit coronavirus spread

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Dive Brief:

  • As colleges look ahead to the spring term, several are announcing they intend to cancel spring break. 
  • The decisions continue a trend of institutions adjusting their academic calendars to reduce travel to and from campus. 
  • And they come as schools offer more details on campus operations and instructional modes for the spring term.

Dive Insight:

College officials are looking for ways to limit students’ travel to and from campus, including by eliminating spring break. While many students spent the break from classes at home or picked up extra hours at work, some made headlines last school year for partying in spite of the pandemic. 

This academic year’s spring plans come soon after many schools said they would wrap up in-person instruction before Thanksgiving and eliminate fall breaks. 

“Institutions may have frustratingly little influence over student conduct, but they do have control over the academic calendar,” Brendan Cantwell, a professor and coordinator of the Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education program at Michigan State University, said in an email on Tuesday.

Colleges of all sizes are scrapping spring break for 2021. Davidson College, in North Carolina, scheduled a pair of two-day, midweek breaks throughout the term in lieu of the full week off and urged students in a campus email shared with Education Dive “not to travel from campus due to the risk of exposure.” Ohio State University officials plan to replace the usual week off with two, nonconsecutive class-free days. The flagship university will also hold the first week of spring term classes, in January, remotely. 

Other institutions to cancel spring break so far include Iowa’s public universities and Kansas State University. Faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where a recent rise in coronavirus cases triggered a temporary switch to online classes, voted this week to eliminate spring break and start the term a week later. 

And Purdue University, which has been vocal about keeping its campus open, announced last week that spring break would be cut to allow for a delayed start to the term and “to minimize mass travel to and from campus during the semester.” 

The university is adding three, nonconsecutive “reading days” designed to “give faculty and students a brief respite from instruction” to catch up with their work, the announcement explained.

Madeline Buitendorp, a student and communications director for Davidson’s College Crisis Initiative, which is tracking colleges’ response to the pandemic, expects a “tidal wave of spring plans” in the next few weeks. However, she cautions, many may use vague language. 

Experts agree what happens after Jan. 1 depends largely on how well colleges can manage outbreaks on their campuses this fall. Several institutions have had to move classes online or send students home because of an uptick in cases.

“The start of fall semester shows us that anywhere students congregate, COVID spreads,” Cantwell wrote. “Even when institutions hold classes remotely and close (their) residence halls, students living in the surrounding community contract and spread the virus.”

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