As summer turns into fall parents and students alike are usually eager to start the back-to-school routine. Whether it’s the prospect of returning to campus, seeing old friends, or simply the thrill of taking your kids to pick up supplies or moving them into their dorms, these activities typically take over the months of August and September. Though it may not exactly be the situation this year, universities are still opening in case you didn't know. Despite the concerns that come with opening up college campuses, almost 65% of higher learning institutions have opted for a "hybrid model" for the first part of the 2020-2021 academic year. The hybrid model essentially dictates that a majority of classes will be online with a few in-person labs for necessary courses. Many universities are confident that this approach will work. I mean, if classes are online, people can just stay within the safety of their dorms, right? Well, wait, let's zoom out a bit.
College campuses are more of an ecosystem than a classroom. Locking kids in a room with Zoom installed on their laptop won't stop them from getting out to grab food, run errands like laundry or shopping, or meet with advisors. All of which are probably more harmful than sitting in a lecture hall. Sure, universities are in a better position to up their online education systems given the time they have gotten to adapt, but will students seamlessly integrate into the new restrictions colleges might place? But while schools continue along with their fall reopening plans, many students are actually questioning the idea of going back to campus at all. The big issue in mind for new and returning students is whether they should take a gap year instead. Many have started to see that online learning is not encompassing of the college experience. And if you’re not getting the college experience, what’s the point in paying for it?
The pressure is on for universities to enact safety measures and make sure campus activities and processes are cleared for health measures, particularly in on-campus locations that could be in danger of overcrowding, like sporting events, gyms, dining halls, residence halls and libraries. Compounding the difficult choices schools are making about how to safely handle a return to campus, many are already in financially difficult positions due to drops in enrollment and funding cuts. Still, they will have to invest in innovative technologies in order to bring back everything else they offer as much as they can. Canceling all events and crucial campus services would only increase their troubles.
Right now, many of the public and confirmed university plans consist of "a strong adherence to social distancing policies" and a mandatory mask policy. Instead of closing down libraries or in-person services, a supplementary approach to what universities are doing is integrating queue management systems and digital signage to keep students/staff safe and informed. Telling people to stay 6 feet apart is different from setting them up for success. By allowing students to queue into a service remotely, universities can drastically reduce crowding, improve service times to have the least amount of exposure/contact, and keep students feeling safe. Though the change may be small, queuing systems like the FireCast SmartFlow can make a huge difference. I could see this working out well in a lot of crowded places. For example:
- Campus Events: Career fairs, RSO fairs, and conferences are a huge part of the learning experience. Use a queuing system to limit the number of people without having students wait in long lines and risk their health. Canceling these types of opportunities might not bode well.
- Libraries: Despite online classes, many students will need to travel to get textbooks and supplies or get access to technology resources like printers and software. This way, you can allow easier access to resources.
- Dining Halls: Dining is a huge necessity for students living on campus and rush hours can get crazy. By adding queues at this point of interaction, students can wait in the comfort of their dorms before they come to pick up food.
- Residence Halls: This is the place where the majority of students will be and closing amenities like common kitchens and laundry rooms will only make things harder. Using a queuing system to reduce the number of active students in these areas can help everyone feel much safer.
- Student Services: Despite online zoom appointments, services for things like financial aid, and health check-ups sometimes need to be done in-person. Here, queues can decrease wait time and also increase service efficiency.
We all know that university operations for the next year or so will not be the same as they used to be. For students who return to campus, it’s important to provide a more filtered college experience that doesn’t just feel safer, but actually is safer. Not only can queue management systems provide that, but they are also a long term investment in both safety and convenience. Even after we return back to normal, these systems will continue to improve services and increase student satisfaction. After all, no one likes waiting in line.