Seven months after the first COVID case was recorded in US soil, college towns are still struggling to keep their schools afloat.
Fear of getting infected by the virus has led to students’ mass exodus in spring and persists until today. Numerous schools were forced to adopt online-based learning while other schools embraced a hybrid approach, with some students going back to campus.
Besides schools, businesses in college towns that rely on students are also finding it hard to keep their businesses running when their primary client, the students, is no longer going to the campus.
Suspending In-Campus Learning
Accordingly, the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill dropped its hybrid approach just a week after students returned to campus for the current semester. The university decided to stop in-campus learning after a coronavirus outbreak wherein at least 40% of those who underwent COVID testing in the campus tested positive. With no other option, the school adopted virtual classes for the remainder of the semester.
In Athens, Ohio, Ohio University opted to switch to online-based learning this semester. The university said that most of the students started their semester through virtual learning. The school plans to gradually conduct class in its campus and eyes to have more students going back to the campus by September.
Impact on the Local Economy
With no students on school campuses, small businesses’ financial viability that depends on students is under threat. Some business owners admitted that they are facing either temporary shutdown or permanent closure.
Don Pinney, an owner of a local dining business in Chapel Hill, shared that he is trying everything to keep their business running. Pinney said that they shifted to takeout and delivery orders to make sales. But he confessed that it is insufficient to cover all the business expenses in employees’ salaries and operating costs.
Steve Patterson, the mayor of Athens, Ohio, said that the mass exodus of students presented an unforeseen roadblock for the city. Patterson explained that the students are the city’s largest water customer, and since they are not coming back due to the pandemic, it will impact the town’s operation. He noted that the city saw a decrease in water and sewer accounts last May and June due to university students’ absence. He added that they are anticipating another shortfall this September.