The University’s best, moderate and worst case COVID-19 response scenarios

The University is grappling with rapidly changing circumstances around COVID-19 and looking for possible paths forward.

Freshman Marissa Mazzetta loads her belongings in preparation for her return to Illinois with her father, Jim Mazzetta, at Middlebrook Hall on Saturday, March 21. Mazzetta, like many freshmen at the University of Minnesota, is moving out of University Housing as a result of COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus.

Kamaan Richards

Freshman Marissa Mazzetta loads her belongings in preparation for her return to Illinois with her father, Jim Mazzetta, at Middlebrook Hall on Saturday, March 21. Mazzetta, like many freshmen at the University of Minnesota, is moving out of University Housing as a result of COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus.

Hana Ikramuddin

As circumstances for the next academic year remain uncertain due to the COVID-19 crisis, the University of Minnesota is planning for multiple possible scenarios.

At the April 21 Board of Regents meeting, Executive Vice President and Provost Rachel Croson broke down three scenarios that the University could expect as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The University is planning for multiple possibilities and variations to each scenario. 

Worst Case Scenario

In a more severe case, the University could spend fall semester entirely online, a move that has some students questioning whether they should take a break in their college career until in-person instruction starts back up.

“I think [class] is going to be online in the fall, and online in the spring too; but all I’m doing is listening to the public health experts,” Regent Michael Hsu said. “We should have a budget scenario where the entire year is online.”

In this scenario, the University expects to see a decrease in enrollment of both national and international students.  

International students who have left the country may have visa issues upon returning to the U.S., Hsu said. Some international students have U.S. addresses and may not be impacted in the same way as those that do not.  

For those that will be returning, finding housing could be a struggle, Hsu said.

“We want [international students] here. We need them here, but it’s a national issue,” Regent Ilean Her said.

The Moderate Case

It can be easier to define the extremes as opposed to the moderate scenarios, Croson said during the April 21 board meeting. The University is also considering a more gradual shift into fall 2020.

For students, this could mean  beginning the school year virtually, or a hybrid scenario between in-person and remote education.  

In preparation for this scenario, the associate deans of each college are developing a curriculum for fall 2020 that can be delivered through other means if needed, Croson said in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

As circumstances change, the University would slowly shift instruction to in-person as is deemed safe.

Those in University housing could move in during the fall semester, although that may not be easy or accessible for all students, Hsu said.

Some international students may find themselves left out of this transition, as the University is concerned some may not be able to return in fall, instead resuming instruction in spring 2020.

In this scenario, international students are expected to spend the duration of the semester utilizing online learning.

Croson said in the email that many factors may create barriers for international students at U.S. universities next year, and there will be more information available into the summer.

“The question the world is looking at [is], ‘When do we reopen?’” Her said. “When do we go back to normal?”

Best Case Scenario

In the best case scenario, the University will hold instruction on campus this fall, with a similar yield rate to past years for domestic students.

The University has prioritized ensuring housing for freshmen and sophomores as it has been historically tied to higher retention and graduation rates, Her said. She would like to see students return to university housing in this scenario, she said.

However, the future for international students who do not have United States addresses remains uncertain. 

In the emailed statement, Croson said the university is in the process of learning how to adapt to the challenges international students may face, including visa and transportation difficulties.