The COVID-19 pandemic has caused enormous upheaval in the lives of two groups of people in transition: the newly unemployed and the high school Class of 2020.
The unemployed face a dismal job market. And high school graduates must decide if spending a lot of money on mainland college makes sense right now, with online learning and social distancing changing the nature and quality of higher education.
That’s why, along with Chaminade and Hawaii Pacific University, it makes sense that the University of Hawaii will resume in-person classes at its 10 campuses, albeit in a necessarily altered environment.
Classrooms, labs, libraries and other learning spaces, as well as dormitories, will be reconfigured to allow for proper physical distancing, said UH President David Lassner. Provisions will be made for testing, contact tracing and, if needed, quarantining — a real possibility, given that health experts expect a resurgence of the virus in the fall.
And online learning, where it makes sense, would be expanded, introducing the concept of “hybrid” or “HyFlex” learning that gives students more options. After all, some aspects of higher education — performances, laboratory and clinical work — can’t readily be evaluated virtually. And there are intangible but real benefits for students engaged in on-campus activities, including participation in political, social service or cultural student organizations.
Not all colleges and universities are reopening in-person classes this fall, but there are good reasons for UH to do so. Our rates of coronavirus infection and deaths are among the lowest in the country, so for incoming students, Hawaii is safer than most places.
Also, with an unemployment rate approaching 40%, it’s a good time for someone to improve his or her education — and earning power — while waiting for jobs to come back. There’s never been a better time to build a smarter, more resilient workforce.
UH will need every student it can get, especially local ones. The university system depends on the state general fund and student tuition to pay the bills, and with the Legislature facing an estimated $1 billion budget hole, UH will not go unscathed. Moreover, UH expects a decline in non-resident students — who pay much higher tuitions rates than residents — who worry about the health risks of leaving home.
So UH has extended the enrollment deadline to Aug. 1, and Lassner never misses a chance to mention the website: apply.hawaii.edu. Check it out.