How To Look At A Big School In A College Town
Clemson University made national news these past week that rocked their college town. The Tigers soundly beat then seventh-ranked Miami in football last weekend, then lit up Georgia Tech for 73 points to maintain their number one ranking. But Clemson also has taken the lead in having the largest number of students test positive for COVID 19. Sixteen percent of the student body, nearly 4,300 students total have tested positive for the virus. The University of Georgia, which ranked third in the football polls until their loss to Alabama this week, ranks second on the COVID test list. I watched both teams play football over the past two weeks. While their stadiums were not full, there were fans in the stands. While Clemson started classes in late August, students arrived on campus a month later.Georgia began in-person classes in August.
For most students on either campus COVID has likely been an inconvenience from daily college life in a college town. But for the people who live in Clemson, South Carolina or Athens, Georgia (pictured above), it has been much more. Business people have lost business, even though students are around. Townspeople who have lived in these communities fear for their health. They do not want large groups of college students partying near their homes. Town-gown relations, quite good pre-COVID in each college town, are deteriorating to fear.
Suppose you are interested in Clemson, the U of Georgia or some other school that’s in a college town, but not a major city. How should you consider the town-gown community in light of COVID?
Obviously, you can, and should, look at YouTubes of “life back then” as well as virtual tours conducted through the admissions office. Clemson personalizes this experience more than other large schools. The university lets you not only schedule a virtual visit of the campus; they also let you tour schools within the university. Not sure if you want to study science or engineering, for instance? Tour both. The University of Georgia does a good job at managing the virtual experience, too.
The admissions office will try to tell you what you need to know about the school. But how do you find out about the community in the college town? Clemson puts out a print newspaper, the Tiger, once a month, but updates weekly online. The Anderson Independent Mail is one of the local papers. My suggestion is that parents read both. Georgia’s online paper is The Red and Black.The Athens Banner-Herald is the local paper. Chances are that one paper will give the student view, maybe the viewpoint of faculty and administration. The other will report the voice of the community. While both will likely talk up football, the community viewpoints will differ.
I also suggest that you check out the decisions each school made in light of COVID, to open for in-person classes, testing policies and practices, accommodations for students who have tested positive, or fallen ill.
Neither Clemson nor Athens are large communities. My hometown, Matawan Township in New Jersey–I will NEVER call it Aberdeen–has more permanent residents (18,000) than the college town of Clemson, South Carolina (14,000). Athens has 128,000. It’s the sixth-largest metro area in Georgia. Somehow, I believe that Athens has more medical facilities off campus than Clemson. Neither school has a medical school on campus. It is fair to ask the admissions officers and informed students if life through COVID will remain the same, or if the college town community has found solutions to help businesses, residents, employed people and students live as much of their lives as possible. My worries are two: that people in college towns will be living life under COVID a year from now, and that town-gown relations will be no better prepared for it than they are now.
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