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Once a week, Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz will help you understand the biggest story in higher education. You'll get analysis and behind-the-scenes insights. Delivered on Saturdays.

From: Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz

Subject: Weekly Briefing: This College Town Wants Its Students to Return

During a pandemic summer, this college town pines for its students to return.

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Cafe Baudelaire, in Ames, Iowa, last weekend. No one is wearing a mask.

Many college towns have relied for years on the spending habits of undergraduates. Maybe you know or live in one of those communities, where, come late July, small businesses yearn for the fall semester to begin.

That is the dynamic in the Campustown neighborhood of Ames, Iowa, home to Iowa State University. An analysis by the personal-finance company SmartAsset found that this college town is one of the most reliant on undergraduate spending. The state never enacted a stay-at-home order. Though Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, has encouraged residents to wear masks, she stopped short of requiring them.

This month, Ames could welcome some 31,000 students and faculty members when Iowa State starts its fall semester. Students will move into campus housing and off-campus apartments in waves, and will be tested upon arrival. They will also be required to wear masks to classes — held at half capacity.

Some Ames residents told our Scott Carlson that none of those measures are likely to stop the spread of the coronavirus among students. Many local businesses, especially restaurants, are struggling, and may not survive another shutdown. To help those businesses, Iowa State will reduce the capacity and events in the Maintenance Shop, the entertainment venue on campus, so more students will turn to off-campus options instead. In turn, some business owners have pledged to double down on sanitizing and cleaning.

Even with such safety measures and precautions in place, no one knows if Ames will become the next coronavirus hot spot. But even with the risks, some residents remain eager for the students' return.

Read Scott's story here. This is the first of his reports on how colleges and college towns are preparing for the fall semester during a pandemic.

Lagniappe.

  • Learn. If you don't quite understand how Costco ensures that Kirkland, its signature brand, maintains really low prices, here's an explainer.
  • Read. My library hold list is getting a workout. The longlist for this year's Booker Prize is here.
  • Listen. From the folks who brought you Serial, there's a new podcast, Nice White Parents, about — you guessed it — white parents' relationship with the public schools in their neighborhoods.
  • Watch. Sometimes you need to watch something simple, like baby ducks racing across lily pads.

I'll be back next week. Take care.

Cheers,
—Fernanda

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