As Campuses Go Remote, Colleges Try To Ease Transition For Students and Employees

Mar 25, 2020

The Statue of Minerva at UNC Greensboro looks down on a campus without the typical bustle of students and employees.
Credit Courtesy of UNC Greensboro

While colleges and universities across North Carolina move classes online, administrators are also dealing with the complications that come with reducing on-campus operations.

Here are a variety of solutions institutions are implementing:

Pass or Fail Grades

Universities' first priority was to move classes online. Some colleges extended or rearranged spring breaks to borrow time to make the transition, and all University of North Carolina System schools have successfully met their deadline to go remote this week.

The move to online classes spurred questions from students about how the transition might affect their grades, while they continue their studies in less than ideal conditions. East Carolina University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have each announced they will give students the option to take a pass or fail grade for any class.

"I would rather not have to use it, but definitely it's nice to have a little bit of stress relieved in a kind of stressful time," said NC State freshman Sam Perry.

NC State students can choose to take any class for a pass or fail after receiving their initial grades at the end of the semester. Perry said that's a real temptation, and it might spur him to sleep in a little more this semester. For students who face difficult hardships, the change could be a lifesaver for their GPAs.

Room and Board Refunds

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper has hinted that universities across the system may offer to refund room and board fees to residential students who paid to live in campus dorms.

Davidson College, a private college near Charlotte, plans to refund students’ unused fees starting next week.

"Our students paid for room and board but now we've asked them -- and insisted actually -- that if they can possibly leave, they leave," said Davidson College President Carol Quillen. "So it only seems fair to refund a portion of their paid room and board that they wouldn't be using."

Davidson officials are working to calculate a fair portion of unused fees that will be returned to students. Some families suggested they would be willing to donate their refund to the institution, and Davidson College is working out ways to redirect those donations to other needs.

Quillen acknowledged the refunds will be a significant loss of revenue for the college, which at the same time has guaranteed to pay all staff for at least five weeks. While the financial details of these decisions are being worked out, Quillen said the college's top priority is to support its community.

"If we can lower people's anxiety at this time of very high stress and anxiety, we want to be able to do that," Quillen said.

Paid Leave For Staff Who Can't Work From Home

While most students are no longer on campus, some university staff can’t perform their jobs, including some who work in food courts and other student services.

UNC Greensboro has transitioned its dining halls to serve take-out orders only, much like local restaurants.

"If we don't have hot bars and people who are checking in and scanning cards -- people at the fitness facility for example -- obviously those folks can't work remotely," said UNC Greensboro spokeswoman Eden Bloss.

UNC System schools are now designating essential mandatory employees who will be permitted to work on campus when absolutely necessary. Other employees will either work from home or be placed on paid administrative leave through the end of March. Employees on administrative leave will receive pay for their typical number of hours, up to 40 hours a week, to ensure they get a normal paycheck.

Virtual Health Services

There are plenty of concerns about what happens if employees get sick. Duke University has expanded its employee health benefits to cover COVID19 testing and tele-health services through Duke Health Anywhere virtual urgent care.

"We wanted to be able provide an option for them to get care, to get medical advice without going to the hospital or the urgent care center or their physician's office," Duke University spokesman Mike Schoenfeld said.

The move is intended to free up capacity at Duke Health hospitals and clinics, and to treat patients with less serious conditions from the comfort of their computer screens.

"Trust me, this is allergy season and if my allergies get bad enough, you can be sure I will use Duke Health Anywhere before I go to my physician," Schoenfeld said.

Carolina Dentistry, a service of the UNC Chapel Hill Adams School of Dentistry, is also offering virtual visits to any North Carolina resident, especially those with urgent needs who can't get to a dentist office. The UNC Chapel Hill campus health services can also schedule tele-health appointments for its students living in North Carolina.

As these policies begin to spring up at one college or another, there’s no doubt some of these ideas will begin to spread.