Colleges, Universities Look to Open Campuses This Fall Through Social-Distancing Best Practices

Returning to campuses this fall may look significantly different than it has in past years as the coronavirus has state colleges and universities adding mandated use of cloth masks, college-issued hand sanitizer, hybrid courses with smaller classroom groups, online lectures and shortened semesters.

Many decisions as far as reopening campuses are still up in the air, but most college and university officials are optimistically saying that they expect to have students back physically for some kind of educational instruction.

Emily Barnes, Cleary University’s Interim President

“We do intend for Cleary to open for classes as scheduled on Aug. 24,” said Emily Barnes, Cleary University’s Interim President. “We are doing everything we can to ensure we are safe with our Safe Start taskforce (and) all the buildings are ready to go. … Overall, our commitment is to start as safe as possible.”

Right now, on-ground classes in the fall for the Howell-based university with increased options for remote and multi-format courses so students can have options, Barnes said. For housing, they will create new options for room capacity and offer spaces for social distancing. There also will be special instruction for faculty and students on how to use personal-protection equipment safely across campus.

For all faculty and staff, they will be asked to come to campus on alternating days so there are fewer people in the buildings or on-site at one time. This phased-in approach will begin this summer, adding more personnel each month as safety and health standards allow. This also will allow personnel to work with childcare issues, address any health concerns and establish personal productivity, Barnes added.

“We want to innovate, not ‘go back to normal’ in how we engage students or offer instruction,” Barnes added. “Our greatest risk would have been to hunker down and weather the storm. Instead, we’ll head into it see how we can make it better overall.”

Most colleges and universities have already said their summer semesters will be online or will be modified to meet state and local health and safety standards, depending on each institution’s individual decision making.

Here are some of the many ways Michigan’s educational institutions are approaching the upcoming fall semester:

• Michigan State University officials said they are looking at data and has a re-opening task force considering its options. “While MSU is hoping for the campus to be fully open and classes to proceed as usual for the fall semester, the university must be prepared that at least some learning may need to be done virtually, and is planning for that possibility,” a spokesperson said.

• The University of Michigan has said it is planning one of two tracks. One is a fully remote semester in the fall. The other is a socially distanced or “Public Health Informed In-Person Semester,” President Mark Schlissel told local media. This means coronavirus testing on campus, large classes online and smaller classes as well as labs meeting in person.

• Central Michigan University said it plans “to reopen CMU’s main campus and satellite locations this fall for face-to-face instruction,” said President Bob Davies in an online statement. Its Office of Residence Life announced a plan to reduce occupancy rates in residence halls to provide more room for social distancing. Campus Dining is reviewing practices in its residential restaurants and retail locations to comply with best practices for safe food service. And facilities and maintenance teams have new practices for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and spaces across campus.

University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) recently announced that all three of its campuses will remain fully in session throughout the 2020-21 academic year.

“As we plan for the fall 2020 semester, we remain focused on our mission of providing excellent undergraduate and graduate education that fosters the intellectual, spiritual, emotional and ethical development of our students,” Antoine M. Garibaldi, president of UDM University, said in a statement.

“This model will allow Detroit Mercy to continue providing transformative, student-centered education in the Jesuit and Mercy traditions. Because of our size and institutional mission, we believe we are uniquely able to address this situation and the individual needs of our students with flexibility, empathy and adaptability,” Garibaldi added.

Davenport University also announced it is preparing to host students both on campus and online in the fall.

“Our students need to be able to pursue their dreams and Davenport remains committed to helping them achieve those dreams,” Dr. Richard J. Pappas, president of Davenport University, said in a statement. “We know we don’t have all the answers about what will come next, but our university has the flexibility, the agility and the experience to adapt and ensure our students don’t miss a step when it comes to their future.”

Davenport’s W.A. Lettinga Campus located in Grand Rapids offers students living arrangements with private rooms for up to 800 students. The university is encouraging students to submit their housing application as soon as possible. Classes for the fall semester begin Sept. 8.

The university has also hired a private cleaning firm to initiate cleaning protocols that include a new anti-microbial fogging system that effectively eliminates contaminates across all surfaces.

Virtual college fair
Students who may be interested in attending one of Michigan’s independent colleges and universities will have the opportunity to take part in a virtual college fair on May 27 and 28 to learn about options available to them.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have been unable to attend traditional college fairs and meet with college representatives. This virtual career fair will give high school students the chance to meet with admissions representatives to learn about programs, resources, and the campuses of Michigan’s 25 independent colleges and universities.

“Michigan students need to know about the college opportunities that are available to them,” said Robert LeFevre, president of Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities. “This event makes sure high school students have the chance learn how Michigan’s independent colleges and universities can be the next step for them without leaving home.”

Michigan’s independent colleges and universities pride themselves on providing students with small class sizes and on-campus leadership opportunities, as well as affordability through financial aid. In fact, 90 percent of students of students at independent colleges and universities receive financial assistance directly from the college itself, or state and federal grants.

The event is open to high school sophomores and juniors, as well as graduating seniors who have not finalized college plans following graduation. The fair will take place on May 27 from 2 to 5 p.m., and May 28 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The college fair will be hosted through College Fairs Online and is sponsored by the Michigan College Access Network. Students interested in participating, can get more information or register at