Colleges overhaul academic calendars to help ensure fall in-person classes

Some colleges will be holding their finals online after in-person classes conclude.

Colleges have begun to plan, or have announced plans to begin their semesters early and end by thanksgiving, with some nixing fall break altogether.

As colleges around the United States consider moving classes online through the rest of 2020, some colleges are taking an unusual approach to hold classes in-person for at least part of the fall semester.

After California State University announced it would host the entire fall semester online, several colleges shifted their schedules to start the semester earlier, ending them just before Thanksgiving, should a second wave of coronavirus infections occur, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Colleges like the University of South Carolina and Regis University, according to the article, will hold in-person classes for the majority of the semester but will switch over to remote learning after Thanksgiving break.

[RELATED: First school in the South makes major move regarding fall term]

The University of Notre Dame announced May 18 that it will start the semester on August 10, approximately two weeks earlier than scheduled, and will not have a fall break. Instead, it will end the semester entirely just before Thanksgiving. Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins stated in a letter to faculty that the college would institute “a number of other health and safety measures” to protect students and faculty.

“We have resisted that course because we believe in the educational value of the on-campus experience for all our students,” Reverend Jenkins wrote. “and we recognize it is particularly valuable for students whose living situations away from campus may not be as conducive to study.”

The University of Texas-Austin will follow a plan similar to that of Notre Dame.

The Metropolitan State University of Denver announced that social-distancing protocols for the upcoming semester would not allow it to “hold the same number of in-person courses on campus” and that the campus would aim for a “mixed model” between face-to-face learning and online options.

“To make this happen, each institution will be sorting their classes into three tiers: on-campus required, on-campus preferred, and online-ready,” the statement said, which would rank classes on whether it was more preferable to have them on-campus or online.

“To determine how courses would be offered in fall,” MSU-Denver Associate Vice President of Online Learning Matt Griswold told Campus Reform. “Deans, chairs, and faculty identified face-to-face courses which needed to remain in-person to accomplish student learning objectives and those which could go online.”

Griswold elaborated that for classes holding in-person instruction, spaces for the class had been evaluated to “ensure effective social distancing for the safety and wellbeing of the students, staff, and faculty” as well as determine the frequency of the sessions, such as some being held seven times a semester or weekly, or rotating through small groups.

He further stated that the college was planning for the possibility of remote learning through 2020, but stated that students who preferred in-person classes would have access to them soon, with the option of “high-quality and well-designed online courses as well.”

“Now that we’ve developed the capacity for online learning, it would be foolish to not maintain and improve upon that capacity,” he said.

[RELATED: Cal State to stay online until 2021]

Most colleges, however, seem to be trying to aim for a full return to campus rather than conduct another semester online in any capacity.

Ithaca College in New York pushed its opening date to October 5 but stressed that the academic year will be a full one. 

College President Shirley M. Collado wrote that it would allow for the college to “plan, prepare, and thoughtfully align toward a common goal as this public health crisis continues to evolve.” Collado added that “specific questions” regarding the academic calendar “will be answered as we continue to hone and finalize our plans to return to campus.”

Montana State University announced May 15 a similar plan to Notre Dame that it will begin its semester August 17 and end the semester before Thanksgiving, with the spring semester beginning on January 11 of next year. President Waded Cruzado also suggested in the announcement that the college was considering quarantine plans for on-campus students who may become infected.

Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University, laid out plans for that school’s fall reopening in a recent Washington Post piece, writing, “On arrival in August, each Boilermaker will receive a kit including face masks and a thermometer for daily temperature-taking as well as the Protect Purdue Pledge asking for a commitment to at least a semester of inconvenience, not primarily for the student’s own protection but for the safety of those who teach and otherwise serve them. I will urge students to demonstrate their altruism by complying, but also challenge them to refute the cynics who say that today’s young people are too selfish or self-indulgent to help us make this work.”

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