COVID-19 in College Towns: Unique Impacts & Recovery Strategies

  • Updated

Three of our Zencity College Towns joined us for a webinar to share their challenges, best practices, and experience throughout the COVID-19 crisis as well as discuss the road ahead. Our speakers included Tom Fountaine- Borough Manager of State College, PA; Steve Patterson- Mayor of Athens, OH; and Eric Hanson- Assistant City Manager of Normal, IL.

Key Takeaways:

Maintaining Strong Relations with University/College Campuses

  • Focusing on the importance of keeping open lines of communications, and best practices for how to coordinate between city and campus communications during COVID-19;

  • Distribution and incorporation of information from the city's centralized COVID-19 website, as well as maintaining transparency on city budget projections in light of the crisis;

Collaborations with Community Partners

  • The Town of Normal established a Pandemic Advisory Council with key stakeholders and is working with the Chamber of Commerce on establishing a criteria checklist for a safe reopening.

  • Athens is leading separate "focus groups" with landlords (coordinating student move-ins/move-outs), bar owners (planning for reopening), and hosting an open COVID-19 virtual round table to brainstorm creative solutions.

Community Response for Long-Term and Student Residents:

  • State College showed how the results of the Zencity Survey helped identify ways to improve and modify their services and communicate with the community- specifically around Police Department enforcement of social distancing and mask guidance and diversifying communications to reach those outside the digital sphere.

Continuity of Operations

  • In light of other event cancellations, Athens had to close the community pool for the summer, which generated a spectrum of negative and positive sentiment in Zencity. The city was able to track the response and nuances of conversation to the decision and other event closures across the city.

  • State College shared their internal staff strategies, operational changes, and performance dashboards for service management to continue to meet the community's external needs.

Census 2020

Main concerns include preventing high-density student precincts from having high undercount as well as capturing graduating students in the count. Call for University communities to work together to encourage the broader census leadership to consider:

  1. Allowing Universities to provide enrollment data directly to the Census Bureau

  2. Offer off-campus housing to count

  3. Renumeration in 2021

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