Colleges begin establishing fall semester plans

Jun 15, 2020 by

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U.S. Mennonite colleges and universities have begun announcing plans for returning to in-person classes this fall. In some cases, that means getting an earlier start.

Lynn Veurink and other Eastern Mennonite University staff are working on campus modifications to implement new COVID-19 health and safety measures, such as ensuring social distancing in classrooms. — Rachel Holderman/EMU

Lynn Veurink and other Eastern Mennonite University staff are working on campus modifications to implement new COVID-19 health and safety measures, such as ensuring social distancing in classrooms. — Rachel Holderman/EMU

As Goshen (Ind.) College opens residence halls this fall, it is moving up the academic calendar. The college announced May 29 its fall semester will begin on Aug. 18, two weeks earlier than originally planned.

The midterm break will be replaced with several midsemester study days. The semester will end by Thanksgiving to reduce exposure from student travel away from campus and back.

Students will be offered the choice to live in a shared or single room at the same price. Rooms will be set aside for isolation if students become ill and for students who must be quarantined due to possible exposure to COVID-19.

Changes are coming to the dining hall and meal services to make eating safe and flexible.

As students and faculty return to in-person classroom instruction, accommodations will be made for students and professors not able to be physically present due to individual health concerns. Class sizes will continue to be small, and classrooms will be adjusted for physical distancing.

A pandemic management team, led by President Rebecca Stoltzfus, will include local public health and medical professionals, faculty and students.

Bluffton (Ohio) University President Jane Wood announced similar actions on June 3. The fall semester is moving forward two weeks, skipping fall break, to finish the semester by Thanksgiving break. Plans call for students to return for the spring semester in January.

On-campus living and learning will begin Aug. 17 for traditional undergraduates. Moving in times will be staggered. Football athletes will still report to campus Aug. 12, as originally scheduled. Master’s program and degree completion program start dates remain as normally scheduled.

Another change is the introduction of professional cleaning in the residence halls and campus buildings. Campus “Learn and Earn” positions will still be available for students who previously worked in custodial services, but due to COVID-19, the university is being careful about allowing students to support cleaning as they have done in the past.

Since access to health care determines better health of a community, Sherri Winegardner, director of the Bluffton nursing program, will revitalize the on-campus Student Health Center. All students will need to provide proof of health insurance before they return to campus.

Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., announced on June 8 it plans to reopen with in-person classes Aug. 19, its originally scheduled starting date.

“We chose to stay with an Aug. 19 start date because it provides a sense of stability in a chaotic world, is most conducive to health and safety protocols, provides the most time for our faculty and staff to prepare for the fall semester and meshes well with recent announcements from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics,” President Jon C. Gering said.

The NAIA decided student-athletes may begin practice Aug. 15. Later start dates for athletics allow Bethel to bring back students gradually, giving time for those from COVID-19 hot spots to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., announced on May 28 it expects to open for in-person classes this fall. Several learning environments could be adopted. President Susan Schultz Huxman said decisions depend on the status of COVID-19 in the region and the recommendations of health and educational authorities.

About 60 administrators, faculty, staff and students began collaborating on six teams in April to address enrollment, teaching and learning, student life, faculty and staff, budget and infrastructure.

“Many, if not all, students will have access to the option of single occupancy [residence] with no extra charge,” said dean of students Shannon Dycus. Students can still live with a roommate with additional agreements regarding risk.

Infrastructure and academic committees are working to minimize exposure and maximize social distancing practices in classrooms. Faculty members and academic leaders are working this summer to design courses that will be flexibile for individual needs and changing public health requirements. Classroom technology is being adjusted as well.

Hesston (Kan.) College announced June 5 it will begin in the fall as normally scheduled and with in-person activities. Opening weekend events take place Aug. 14-16, and classes start Aug. 17.

Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan., was the first U.S. Mennonite college to announce plans to be fully open in the fall by its customary August start dates, doing so on May 4. A team has been creating mitigating strategies for COVID-19.


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