Economist highlights difference between ‘ability’ and ‘willingness’ to reopen economy amid pandemic

Hundreds of thousands of students from across the world have descended on America’s university campuses for the start of the academic year, and college towns have become the “new front in America’s pandemic,” The New York Times reports. Despite efforts to curtail the coronavirus’ spread, cases have spiked in about 100 college towns, according to a Times analysis. While “there has been no uptick in deaths in college communities,” the concern is that students — many of whom are asymptomatic — will spread the disease to older, more vulnerable people.

For all the lofty rhetoric about academic duty of care, one big reason colleges vowed to reopen this fall is because they need the money. The University of Iowa, for example, was facing a budget shortfall of $75 million thanks to coronavirus, the Times reports. Now, “Iowa City is a full-blown pandemic hot spot.”

Some schools are putting the blame fully and squarely on students, punishing those who flout coronavirus policies with suspension or outright dismissal. For example, Northeastern University dismissed 11 students for gathering in a hotel room and will not be reimbursing their $36,500 tuition — “marking one of the most severe punishments college students have faced for breaking pandemic rules,” The Washington Post notes.

Others schools are now moving classes online or opting for a hybrid system. But by this point, students have already paid their fees and likely won’t be getting any money back, a move NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway predicted back in August while speaking to former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Andy Slavitt: “You have 40 years where you could depend on the same amount of revenues coming in within a two-week period where parents sent in their deposits, maybe plus four or five percent. And all of a sudden that’s threatened … I think that lends to a lot of rhetoric around how important it is to open, and that we’re going to figure out protocols to ensure something resembling a normal experience. I think a lot of this, quite frankly, is Latin for ‘parents, please send in your tuition checks.'” Jessica Hullinger

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