Across the country, institutes of higher learning face new challenges, unlike any they have met before. The pandemic has completely changed the mechanics of human interaction, and no other industry has felt the impact of that change more than higher education. From the onset of COVID-19, Americans watched the departure of large student populations from universities to mitigate the spread of the virus. While this was a necessary step, the ramifications of that decision affected the quality of the learning environment and already strained budgets.

It’s now August, and many schools have decided to open their doors to an on-site student population once again. As we broach the task of reopening our colleges and universities, every administration must discern the safest ways to do so. A safe reopening of America’s schools will require a critical rethinking of the entire move-in process. Long-standing move-in traditions on campus may need to change to maintain the health and safety of staff, students, and their families.

Here are five actions universities can take to reopen for the fall semester safely:

Tip #1: Extend the University Move-In Window

The first is obvious but will be challenging to put in place for schools that do not already have this plan in action. The key to ensuring safety during the university move-in process is to reduce the number of people moving per day. Expanding a school’s move-in window allows for a more significant amount of space and time between students, thus reducing the risk of exposure. The amount of time needed to accommodate all students safely depends on the size of the student body at each campus; smaller universities may need only a few more days, while larger colleges may need multiple weeks to accommodate the process.

Tip #2: All Move-Ins Should Occur Exclusively on a Scheduled Basis

As mentioned before, ensuring the student body’s safety hinges upon a reduction in potential human interactions. While historically all college move-ins have been scheduled, they are often divided by class-level (i.e., freshman, senior). This year’s move-ins should be scheduled with greater specificity, as close to the individual level possible. Schedule the incoming students using their class level, last name, and the location of their campus residency hall if need be. Fill each building one floor at a time, starting with the top level. Provide each student a specifically designated window of time (i.e., 2-4 pm) on their move-in day and only allow a limited number of students to that time slot.

Tip #3: Limit Family Members on Campus

This tip is without question the most emotionally difficult sacrifice that we must ask of the incoming student body. The importance of a family helping their loved one settle in their new residence is indeed a hallmark of the college experience. Unfortunately, administrations cannot risk having that many people on campus as they attempt to limit person-to-person contact and spread of the virus. So for now, the common practice is to allow only one family member to accompany a student as they move into their residence.

Tip #4: Have an On-Site Logistics Operation

All prior notifications or precautions will be ineffective unless paired with a well-thought-out on-site logistical strategy. From the equipment used to the building layout, each aspect of the move-in must be carefully planned, but easy for students to understand. Each university’s plan will differ to accommodate their unique environment; however, there are small things each administration can do to ease on-site hassles:

• Set out cones and markers both in parking lots and within buildings to enforce social distancing
• Make certain hallways and staircases within each building one way
• Limit capacity on elevators and staircases
• Have an on-site team guiding students and family members
• Require masks and provide hand sanitizer stations in heavily trafficked areas
• If possible, establish a standardized fleet of university move-in equipment (i.e., carts, dollies, hand-trucks) that a separate dedicated team sanitizes between uses

Another way to make this operation that much more efficient is to use a logistics tracking system to monitor the use of each piece of move-in equipment. Team members can use a campus logistics platform to trace each step of the equipment lifecycle from use, to sanitization, to return and reuse. This will allow for greater equipment visibility while still ensuring sanitization.

Tip #5: Communicate All Logistical Rules and Procedures to Families Weeks Ahead of Their Arrival

This last tip is the linchpin to the overall success of your strategy. Each family must thoroughly understand the university’s moving protocols to adhere to them. Universities must clearly communicate their move-in strategy with each family well ahead of their arrival. Create dedicated virtual learning sessions that families must attend ahead of their move-in date. Require attendance signatures for each attendee, then link that signature to a student’s key card, keys, or other access items. Their attendance and acknowledgment of on-site procedures should ensure each student’s understanding of how to safely enter their campus residence.

Do you have more questions about university logistics? Let us know in the comments section below or by visiting the contact page of our website.