A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Hundreds of students remain isolated on Kentucky’s college campuses; NKU estimates 150

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Thousands of Kentucky college students have moved out of on-campus housing in response to COVID-19. However, the state’s colleges and universities still expect hundreds of them to remain on campus this semester due mostly to financial challenges or bans on international travel.

The institutions have moved quickly to establish outreach and support services as campuses transition toward online courses and remote learning. That includes loaning out computers, providing Wi-Fi hotspots, and offering advisors, counselors and telehealth services via the internet.

However, some students have simply been unable to travel home or find housing, institutions say, and many were working through an exemption process.

“Campuses are not closed,” said Dr. Aaron Thompson, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. “Every campus will still have some students and employees on-site and the academic mission will continue. In the meantime, we must make sure campus interventions are as diverse as the students and their needs, especially when it comes to housing.”

The University of Kentucky, for example, expects to have more than 400 students remain, nearly 6% of the 6,900 living on campus before COVID-19.  UK is transitioning those students to three residence halls with one student per suite.  Common areas will stay closed, and visitation is off-limits, to maintain social distancing.

Northern Kentucky University

UK’s Gatton Student Center will provide regular to-go meals from the dining hall, and campus leaders are considering ways to use the facility as a “one-stop-shop” for other services, such as financial aid or counseling.

Spokesman Jay Blanton says UK is balancing federal and state health guidelines with individual needs. “When we talk about the health, safety, and well-being of all of our students, that’s going to take a lot of different forms,” he stated. “For the vast majority of our students, it’s returning home. For some students that have to stay here, it’s how do we provide support and create a healthy environment.”

Northern Kentucky University projects nearly 150 students will continue to live on campus, down from about 1,500, under a similar setup that provides health and counseling services, meals to go and social distancing. The goal is to provide housing while also offering a system that protects student health, said NKU spokesman Roy Gifford. “We are keeping all that in mind to keep those folks safe,” he said.

While the numbers are smaller on many other campuses, administrators say coordinating resources is still critical.

Kentucky State University is expecting only about nine students to continue living there, down from 113 who remained after an extended spring break. About 800 students reside on campus in normal times.

Students who stayed will remain spread out in a single residence hall to comply with social distancing, and KSU is providing a schedule to pick up food from the cafeteria or leave campus for other needs.

“We’ve done all we can to accommodate them, whether they are living on campus or off-campus because they are our top priority,” KSU spokesperson Clara Stamps said.

“Campuses have been extremely proactive with efforts to blunt the impact of the outbreak for all of their students and have done a yeoman’s job protecting international students and those with financial hardships,” Thompson said. “I want to commend their flexibility and compassion toward all.”

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