Thousands of college students have returned to local universities for the fall semester, despite decisions by college administrators to transition to online learning due to the risks of COVID-19.
At San Diego State University, an estimated 2,500 students now occupy campus housing. While administrators have capped the number of students to each unit to just two and closed common areas, the potential for an outbreak is undoubtedly present.
“It’s like unwritten that there is going to be an outbreak,” said Senior Brenden Tuccinardi who is also the Editor in Chief of San Diego State’s student-run paper, The Daily Aztec. “It’s kind of like a waiting game. Just last weekend there were people out partying and so many were not wearing masks. That’s the reality that a lot of universities are facing.”
And while Tuccinardi says the vast majority of students on campus are wearing masks and following health guidelines, he suspects that there were other factors at play in making the decision to have students live on campus despite the move to online courses.
“Giving students the freedom to decide on their own, well, that is not necessarily what adults should do with 19-20 year olds. I wouldn’t say it’s purely money making, but I definitely think it factored into this decision, which I think is just a reality of higher education at this point.”
Regardless of the reason, one thing is true; universities as well as all educational institutions will face severe budget shortfalls due to the pandemic.
Students that NBC 7 spoke to agree.
“It’s weird,” said one sophomore who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Why are students living in the dorms when all of the classes are online?
“Honestly, I think money has something to do with it, I know student housing generates a lot of revenue.”
But SDSU’s Associate Vice President for Business Operations, Erik Hansen, says money has nothing to do with it.
“Our student housing is not for profit,” Hansen told NBC 7. “It’s a misnomer that people think housing is a money generating entity. It’s not.”
Instead, says Hansen, revenues from housing pays for utilities, student services, and salaries for staff to run and maintain the dorms.
Last fiscal year, Hansen said SDSU collected $57 million from student housing. Now they’ve predicted a $47 million loss in student housing revenue due to the pandemic.
Student housing serves other purposes. Namely, administrators say students who live on campus are more likely to stay focused on their studies.
Randy Timm is the Assistant Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students at SDSU.
“This is so students can stay on track. To finish their degree on time.”
Added Timm, “There are some key student developmental issues taking place at this point in life and one of them is independence. Students want independence.”
Timm says in preparation for the new school year, administrators sent students training videos on how to follow social distancing guidelines and the importance of wearing face masks. Housing staff is also tasked with educating others on the importance of following the health guidelines.
Timm says that if students don’t follow the policies, students could potentially face expulsion.