Nationwide, college campuses will look considerably different this fall as students socially distance, switch to virtual-learning options or choose to defer a year until safety issues involving the coronavirus and its spread are further resolved.
In Michigan, universities and colleges are working with students and families as well as with staff and state officials to determine what re-opening for fall will look like. Officials also are creating initiatives such as no tuition increases, deferred payments options and increases in scholarships as well as need-based aid to help students during this pandemic.
For example, Central Michigan University had a ready-to-go set of plans around how to help its students prepare for the year ahead. While officials are still working on instructions on returning the campus in fall, CMU President Robert Davies and his staff have put financial stability as its top priority for returning and new student.
“We made (these decisions) because it was the right thing to do at the right time for Michigan for our students and our families so people have access to higher education when we get out of this situation,” Davies said. “The ability to be critical thinkers and pivot is absolutely key.”
At Michigan State University, President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., established the COVID-19 Reopening Campus Task Force charged with developing and reviewing a range of scenarios for when and how to resume various on-campus activities. At 9 p.m. April 30, MSU will hold a livestream aimed at answering questions from admitted students and their parents.
Another example is the University of Michigan. In an online statement, President Mark Schlissel said he remains “cautiously optimistic that we will be able to deliver a public health-informed fall semester on our three campuses, with as much in-person instruction as possible.”
“Until we have more information, we won’t know how this will look. I will share any decisions we make as soon as I can,” Schlissel wrote in a UM blog post Tuesday. “Planning efforts are already underway. The Office of the Provost is launching a coordinated set of committees including faculty and staff across campus to focus on Ann Arbor’s fall semester academic planning, including classes.”
Campus officials are partnering with student committees to determine future plans, Schlissel wrote. Other issues UM is considering include how instruction will take place, how to run co-curricular activities as well as how to share resources across campuses and between students, Schlissel added.
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Central Michigan University defined its plan over the past few months of the coronavirus but the majority of these ideas were already in progress, Davies said.
Among CMU’s recent announcements, Davies said there will be no tuition increase for the 2020-2021 academic year. It also will offer a deferred payment option and flexible payment plans for students, including no late fees that would otherwise prevent students from registering for classes. Moreover, there will be an increase in need-based aid and in scholarships.
Another important aspect is guaranteed on-campus employment to any first-year student who wants or needs to work while attending classes.
The questions Davies said weighed most heavily on the university’s collective mind were: How do we serve Michigan and the greater region? How do we put forward a way to rebound in the moment, in our commitment to serving the state and region and the trends across the country?
Its idea for guaranteeing employment came out of a seminar CMU had last summer, Davies said. He asked the CMU team to think about how it provides opportunities for students to graduate with a rich experience. Also, studies found students with employment on campus have a higher graduation rate and employability afterward. CMU decided it was time to offer this, Davies said.
Remote or virtual learning plans were already in place as well because of last year’s Polar Vortex, which caused faculty and staff to come together to create a strong plan for such incidents. And a pandemic definitely qualifies as a crisis of this nature, Davies said.
CMU and his office will evaluate all plans regularly, knowing that there will be bumps and changes needed along the way. Plus, he himself is the father of a CMU freshman – his daughter, working remotely from their basement – so she is a good sounding board and “focus group of one,” Davies said.
“We agreed to make every decision based on our ethics and communication. That means letting our strategies that we have in play drive everything else,” Davies said.