By The Gatepost Editorial Board
This is the first Fall semester since 2020 the administration did not announce a University-wide COVID-19 protocol and Massachusetts is no longer in a state of emergency due to the pandemic.
In 2020, the University collected data of the number of students at FSU who contracted COVID-19. Students, faculty, and staff were required to test if they came to campus, as well as receive a COVID-19 vaccine and a vaccine booster. We were also required to wear masks and distance from our peers in most buildings.
Over the following semesters, these regulations were mitigated following CDC guidance, but up until this academic year, for those who followed the rules, the oddities of life during a pandemic persisted.
But now the state of emergency is over, and as the majority of us are vaccinated and leaving the house daily without masks, we are left reflecting on the effects this period of isolation and uncertainty had on us.
We are left to wonder how this long stretch of no in-person contact is affecting and will affect students’ learning. Students spent long stretches without seeing their teachers and their friends.
This issue has already become the subject of research, but not much touches the subject of higher education and it is arguably too early to study the long-term effects of years of COVID-19 isolation.
However, much of the preliminary research shows students have lost years of critical education, and a recent study from the Harvard Graduate School of Education shows some students in K-12 would need at least three years of extra instruction to catch up on material missed during the isolation period.
And this doesn’t even consider interpersonal skills that are learned from interacting in a physical classroom and other school settings.
Class of 2027 first-year students who arrived directly from high school are the first class of students to have spent the majority of their high school education learning behind a Zoom screen.
So what does this mean for Framingham State?
As the administration prepares for strategic planning, it needs to consider the resources faculty and staff need to help students to recover from the loss of learning and the emotional and communication deficits they suffered because of the two-year isolation.
Maybe this includes more professional development for faculty.
After all, the plan will guide the University for the next five years. Students enrolling during this time span will have missed years of learning during middle and elementary school - formative years.
Offices on campus such as CASA offer incredible programs and resources. But do they need more support to assist students who have lost years of critical learning?
Specifically, CASA offers resources for first-year students such as Academic Success Peer Tutoring and supports the mandatory first-year experience course RAMs 101.
The purpose of RAMs 101 is to introduce students to the University and teach them common skills that will be useful throughout their college career. However, the classes often spend much of the class time more geared to their academic content.
Moving forward, this program could be re-evaluated in how to focus more on student emotional needs and teaching students important college skills than on rigorous academic content.
Furthermore, student-focused offices such as the Counseling Center and the Center for Student Experience and Careers must be further supported and even expanded.
The Counseling Center is a valuable resource on campus that provides services that are critical to student success and wellness. This was true before the pandemic, but it is even more so now.
Additionally, student engagement suffered incredibly during the isolation period. Student engagement with clubs, internships, co-curriculars, and job opportunities are essential to a student’s college experience. However, many are missing out simply because they do not know how to engage.
In President Nancy Niemi’s Oct. 16 State of the University Address, she said, “If we admit students, we are making an implicit promise to help them succeed.”
This couldn’t be more true.
As the University prepares for the years ahead, the deficits of learning and social and emotional development students have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic must be at the center of its planning.
Prioritizing student readiness will be crucial to the University’s mission of enrolling and retaining students.
Taking a stroll around the University, it may look and feel as if the pandemic has come and gone.
But its effects will continue to be felt for a generation.