Student behavior will make or break colleges this semester.
“I do think that it is possible for some smaller colleges, particularly those that have significant resources, to be able to move through this semester and keep the number of cases relatively low,” said Kevin McClure, associate professor of higher education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Many smaller institutions may have advantages to help slow the spread of COVID-19, like more room to host socially-distanced classes outside, the ability to frequently test a wider swath of the population, and an intrinsic way to contact trace.
“I know every single person I interact with and I know every single person that my friends interact with," said Gauri Mangala, student at Gettysburg College. "So there's a level of trust that comes from living in a small community.”
It’s also easier to quickly quarantine students on-campus, like Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg College did earlier this month. But now, administrators are de-densifying the number of people remaining at the school and shifting many classes online for its roughly 2,600 students after it saw an uptick in cases.
“This reflects our commitment to a residential model, but also a recognition that the path we were on just wasn’t sustainable,” said Robert Iuliano, president at Gettysburg College.
Plus, any preventive steps take extra cash, and some may not have as much on hand as others. And ultimately, that small campus size could also be the Achilles heel of some colleges.
“Once you get 100 cases or something, that's not tenable when that's 5, 10 percent of your total campus population," said Matthew Junge, associate professor of mathematics at Baruch College. "So these larger schools, they can have a small outbreak and they can control it, but it takes less to shut down a small college.”