Online or on campus? Universities ponder plans for fall

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As college campuses sit empty, closed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, university officials are scrambling to figure out what the fall 2020 semester will look like.

Dan Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, said one thing is for sure:

“I want to make it clear that all of our colleges will be open and delivering instruction,” she said. “It’s (just) a matter of what mode will that be. Will it be online or on campus?”

Hurley sees returning to campus as the best-case scenario. The decision to return in person will largely depend on a university’s ability to provide adequate COVID-19 testing for its campus community, as well as develop a system to trace the spread should someone become infected. 

“If it is on campus, I would never say it’ll be just like it was last fall or the way it was for the last 50 years,” Hurley said Wednesday. “It will be different.”

Face masks would likely be required and enhanced social distancing efforts could drastically affect every aspect of college life. 

“You’re not going to see the crowded classrooms or the large lecture halls,” Hurley said. “…Residence halls might not be at the full typical 100% occupancy, it might be fewer roommates or no roommates.”

Such monumental decisions won’t be made until late June or early July. Each university will decide the best for its campus community. 

“What we can say is, ‘Here’s what we know today, but we aren’t necessarily in control of tomorrow,’” Lynn Blue, vice president of enrollment development at Grand Valley State University, said. “Our expectation is to be face-to-face in the fall and that’s exactly how we’re operating or planning.” 

Blue said that could change at any time, especially if the current plan should clash with future guidance from federal or state officials.

Whatever the new semester brings, both Hurley and Blue strongly encourage students to stick with their plan to pursue higher education, even if it’s not the college experience they had imagined. 

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