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A sign outside Bobb and McCulloch halls at Northwestern University indicates the basketball courts are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic on July 13, 2020.
A sign outside Bobb and McCulloch halls at Northwestern University indicates the basketball courts are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Illinois colleges and universities are rolling out plans for reopening campuses this fall.
Clare Proctor/Sun-Times

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Single rooms, meals to go, required COVID-19 testing: Illinois colleges plan students’ return to campus

Ending in-person classes before Thanksgiving break and living alone in dorms will be the new normal at many of the state’s colleges and universities this fall.

UPDATE: A Northern Illinois University spokesman said Tuesday that students living on campus will now be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test before returning to campus, and dining halls will prepare carryout food only and not provide indoor seating.

Ending in-person classes before Thanksgiving break and living alone in dorms will likely be the new normal at many colleges and universities in Illinois this fall.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave permission for them — as well as K-12 schools and community colleges — to reopen this fall if they follow state guidelines that include mandatory face masks, social distancing and monitoring students’ symptoms.

Beyond those basic guidelines, individual schools are developing their own reopening plans, with precautions ranging from removing doors in office buildings to testing every student living on campus.

Most college campuses plan at least some face-to-face classes, with many courses at least partially or completely online.

“Hybrid” has become a new buzzword in higher education, said Illinois State University President Larry Dietz. The term describes classes meeting both face-to-face and online.

But how many classes will meet in-person or online at each campus remains in flux. The Trump Administration’s new rule that international students can’t stay in the country if they’re taking only online classes could lead to more traditional classes. However, some schools have said they could roll back in-person course offerings if the pandemic worsens.

Already, Loyola University announced Monday that it was scaling back reopening plans and said most classes will be online unless they require face-to-face interaction, such as for lab work or research.

Loyola University announced Monday that most of its classes will be online in the fall.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Illinois State junior Ethan Kosberg is going into the fall semester with reservations about how long in-person classes will last. Kosberg, a history and political science major, is taking five classes this fall; two are online-only.

“My biggest worry would be that on, say, Sept. 15, there’s a huge outbreak and everyone goes home,” said Kosberg, 20, ISU’s student body vice president. “Then it’s like, what was this all for?”

Ethan Kosberg, Illinois State junior and student body vice president, said he isn’t sure how long in-person classes will last this fall.
Ethan Kosberg, Illinois State junior and student body vice president, said he isn’t sure how long in-person classes will last this fall.
Ethan Kosberg

ISU and many other Illinois colleges plan to hold final exams online so students don’t need to return to campus after Thanksgiving. But Kosberg said it’s much harder to focus on exams from his bedroom in Springfield, Kansas.

Loyola, Northwestern and the U. of C. also will end in-person classes before Thanksgiving break.

At U. of C. and the University of Illinois at Chicago, new students get priority for enrolling in on-campus classes. Roosevelt University — which is reserving most face-to-face classes for labs, studio classes and clinicals — is allowing first-year students the chance to schedule two or three in-person classes.

“Being able to be on campus for at least one class during your first year is such an important part of building community,” said Wasan Kumar, a senior and student body president at UIC. “It’ll be something that stays with you for the rest of your life.”

Wasan Kumar, 20, will be a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago this fall.
Wasan Kumar, 20, will be a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago this fall.
Wasan Kumar

On-campus housing

Universities are also grappling with how to adequately assign on-campus housing, with most students traditionally having one or more roommates. Unlike previously, no Roosevelt student is required to live on campus this year because of the pandemic. At Northern Illinois University, Columbia College, the U. of C. and Loyola, all dorm rooms will be singles. Some Loyola students might have to live at the Hampton Inn next to campus, though the university is still finalizing those details.

Losing that typical dorm life experience also means losing how students typically build their college community, said Sal Carfagno, a junior studying health care administration at Loyola.

“When I was a first-year student, dorms were the place to be, where I made a lot of friends,” said Carfagno, 20, of Linwood, New Jersey. “By the end of the year, we had a big group of friends. For me, dorm life was very beneficial to my growth at Loyola.”

This year, instead, incoming freshmen will try to develop that sense of community through things like virtual meetings for student organizations or clubs, and online orientation — Carfagno said the university wants to make this experience “as unique as it can be.”

Campus Experience

Category Columbia College DePaul University Illinois State University Loyola University Northern Illinois University Northwestern University Roosevelt University University of Chicago University of Illinois at Chicago University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign
Category Columbia College DePaul University Illinois State University Loyola University Northern Illinois University Northwestern University Roosevelt University University of Chicago University of Illinois at Chicago University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign
Housing Singles only Doubles permitted sometimes No overnight guests, no triples or quads All singles, might use nearby hotel for student housing All singles Singles unless students opt to live with a roommate Students not required to live on campus, will allow some roommates All singles Single and double rooms, no guests Single and double rooms
Dining Halls N.A. Limited indoor seating, students allowed to change their meal plan Tables four or less Dining halls closed after Thanksgiving Carry out food, no sit-down seating Limited seating and to-go options N.A. Seating reduced by about 75%, mostly to-go Reduced indoor seating Limited seating with carryout and to-go options
Health Screening Daily online screening before coming to campus Haven't made final determinations Encourage testing before students return, student health services can test students, self-screening for symptoms and temperature Free testing on campus Students living on campus must provide a negative COVID test from within a week of returning to campus Testing available on campus, required to have negative test to attend in-person class Touchless temperature and symptom screenings before coming on campus On-campus testing usually free if symptomatic, university-mandated testing at no cost to students Daily temperature and symptom screenings for employees, UIC insurance covers COVID-19 testing without copay Free testing available on campus

Single rooms also will be status quo at Northwestern, though students can opt for a roommate. The university is encouraging students who live close to campus to continue living at home, though their financial aid package will be reduced accordingly, said Northwestern spokesman Jon Yates.

With Chicago’s new travel order requiring a two-week quarantine for travelers from COVID-19 hotspots, students coming from out of the state or country might be required to self-isolate, depending on the restrictions in place come fall. The U. of C. and Northwestern have both said they’ll follow quarantine guidelines, if still in place.

Some schools have released policies cracking down on guests in dorms. Guests will be allowed only in dorm common rooms at Northwestern this fall. At DePaul, even other DePaul students won’t be able to enter dorms that aren’t their own; ISU will follow a similar policy.

Some schools, including Northwestern, are cracking down on who is allowed in residence halls this fall.
Clare Proctor/Sun-Times

At UIC, Kumar said he still isn’t sure where he’s living this fall. Kumar is from north suburban Skokie; with three of his four fall classes completely online, he’d have to commute to campus only twice a week if he lives at home.

Still, “I would love to be in an off-campus apartment,” said Kumar, 20, who is studying neuroscience and public policy. “It’d be nice to stay somewhere with my own independence.”

Large tables of students catching up over lunch or dinner will likely be a thing of the past on most campuses this fall, replaced with grab-and-go meals and socially distanced indoor seating. Many campuses will require students living on campus to have a meal plan.

ISU will keep its dining halls and dorms open even after Thanksgiving to accommodate students who must return to campus, such as for clinicals or a job.

“We have a signed contract to provide services to students who want to stay with us,” said Dietz, the school’s president. “Some students don’t have a place to go. This is their home.”

Roosevelt University is planning temperature checks for anyone coming on campus.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Testing, safety and socialization

Schools including Northwestern, the U. of C. and U. of I. in Urbana-Champaign will offer testing to students, faculty and staff. At Northwestern and the U. of C., every student living in a residential hall will be tested for the coronavirus when they arrive to campus, as well as throughout the year.

Ellie Cheline, senior at Illinois State University and the school’s Panhellenic president.
Ellie Cheline, senior at Illinois State University and the school’s Panhellenic president.
Ellie Cheline

All Northwestern students — regardless of where they’re living — must have a negative COVID-19 test before attending in-person classes or on-campus activities. And students living off campus will be randomly tested, according to guidelines released last week.

A touch-less temperature screening will be required for anyone accessing Roosevelt’s campus. Columbia doesn’t plan routine testing because of Chicago’s testing availability, though the school will secure testing if a situation warrants it.

Greek life will also look different this fall, with some schools turning to virtual recruitment and minimal social events. Ellie Cheline, ISU senior and Panhellenic Council president, said sorority recruitment, which typically involves 500 to 600 students, will take place online in mid-September.

“I actually think it will push values-based recruitment,” said Cheline, 21, a finance major. “It takes the superficial things out of the process. It’s going to be really good to have deep conversations.”

The senior said students in Greek life will be able to focus on philanthropy and bonding with other members, despite not having typical mixers and formals.

Gisselle Cervantes, student body president and DePaul senior, at her student government inauguration.
Gisselle Cervantes, student body president and DePaul senior, at her student government inauguration.
Gisselle Cervantes

DePaul senior Gisselle Cervantes plans to carefully balance her social life and health when students return to campus this fall. Since she’s immunocompromised, Cervantes, 21, said she isn’t sure yet what her social life will look like, though she plans to follow state and city guidelines with “more precautions on top.”

“A lot of students are in a similar situation as I am, having all online classes but still moving back to apartments,” said Cervantes, who’s also student body president. “I’m worried there’ll be an increase in cases because of people doing things on their own time.”

For Cervantes, going to school in a pandemic means missing out on the spontaneous run-ins on the way to class, though she said she’s looking forward to being back on the campus she considers home.

Sal Carfagno, 20, will be a junior at Loyola this fall, studying health care administration.
Sal Carfagno, 20, will be a junior at Loyola this fall, studying health care administration.
Sal Carfagno

Dietz, president of ISU, admitted the university has “no authority” over off-campus landlords and thus can’t enforce social distancing policies at off-campus parties. Instead, ISU has been working with these landlords on a marketing campaign reminding students to be safe and responsible, even when they aren’t on campus grounds.

Carfagno, the Loyola student, turns 21 in a month. He recognizes he won’t be able to celebrate his birthday the way he expected to. But when he reflects on how the university is handling plans for the fall, one word comes to mind: “Grateful.”

“It’s not going to be perfect, not going to be completely what it was a year ago today,” Carfagno said. “But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in this time.”

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