Most schools to offer in-person, remote learning for fall
West Virginia University officials say they have done their homework and are keeping their fingers crossed that they made the right decision to open three campuses to students Aug. 19.
“We are better prepared,” said Rob Alsop, WVU’s vice president for Strategic Initiatives, referring to the university’s decision to close the campus in March when the pandemic first hit the state. “But, if we need to pivot, then we’ll pivot.”
To get a better gauge on the COVID-19 pandemic at its Morgantown, Beckley and Keyser campuses, the university is spending $4 million to get all of its employees, faculty and students tested for the virus to assemble a campus-wide data base so officials know what they’re dealing with as the semester starts in less than a month.
WVU is hoping its decision to offer students a hybrid delivery of classes — in-person and remote learning — as well as giving employees the opportunity to work from home will keep outbreaks of the novel coronavirus to a minimum. Officials also want to ensure the 4,700 incoming freshmen get a proper college experience.
On paper, WVU’s decision looks like a good move. As a whole, West Virginia has 103 COVID-19 related deaths — all mostly older — since the pandemic was first tracked in March. The current positive rate in the state is a little more than 1% as is the virus’ reproduction rate.
Currently, no college, university or secondary school in West Virginia plans to be totally online this fall, according to a list of the 1,200-plus U.S. colleges and universities kept by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Elsewhere in West Virginia
Most West Virginia colleges and universities are planning in-person classes with some online learning, including Marshall University, the state’s second-largest university.
Like WVU, Marshall officials are making it mandatory that face coverings be worn inside all university buildings. All students are being provided with face masks and like WVU, students must complete a COVID-19 module.
Marshall is encouraging physical distancing of 6 feet and all arriving international and residence hall students, student-athletes and non-residence hall students from virus hotspots in the U.S, will be tested. In addition, Marshall said it will conduct “sentinel surveillance testing of selected cohorts throughout the academic year.”
The university also canceled its Aug. 8 commencement ceremony at Joan C. Edwards stadium. That ceremony was delayed from May 2 because of COVID-19. It is now scheduled for Dec. 12.
“We consulted with the Cabell-Huntington Health Department and our own Marshall Health chief medical officer, and they do not believe it is safe to host such a large, in-person gathering due to the increased risk of transmitting the virus, even with the measures we had planned to protect graduates and guests,” Marshall President Jerome Gilbert said in a release.
Fairmont State University, meanwhile, is opting to hold in-person classes this fall, said Mirta Martin, the university’s president.
“From the very beginning, the university’s policies and protocols for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic have been rooted in safety for our students, our faculty, our staff and our surrounding communities,” Martin said in an email to The Dominion Post.
“As an institution serving more West Virginians per capita than any other institution in the state, we have an obligation to provide students with the face-to-face education that they rely on, and that they expect — as long as it is safe to do so.”
Fairmont State installed Plexiglas barriers and all classrooms have been equipped with webcams and microphones that allow each class to be live-streamed and recorded. A face covering is required in all university buildings, and faculty will only be asked to be on campus to deliver their classes.
“We will also continue to enforce all best practices to ensure safety and protection, including but not limited to wearing masks, hand-washing and social distancing.” Martin said.
Other West Virginia schools that will welcome students are Alderson Broaddus University, Bluefield State University, Concord University, University of Charleston, Davis & Elkins College. Glenville State University, Ohio Valley University, Shepherd University, West Liberty University, West Virginia State University, Salem University, Wheeling University and West Virginia Wesleyan College.
What are others doing?
As of July 21, half of the higher education schools surveyed by the Chronicle were planning on in-person classes, while 34% were planning for a hybrid model, and 12% were planning online only. But, that percentage is still in flux.
The University of Southern California, for example, was going to have some classes on campus this fall. The university, however, scuttled those plans because of a surge in COVID-19 cases in the Los Angeles area.
California, the most populous state, now has more positive novel coronavirus cases, passing New York earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times reported.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, California also has the largest number of colleges and universities that are exclusively offering on-line classes this fall. This includes the California State University system with 23 branches and more than 480,000 students. The University of California is planning on taking a similar action at its nine branches.
The Chronicle’s list also shows Harvard and Princeton will be online only. Yale, meanwhile, will have in-person classes. Other well-known schools that have indicated they will be online only include Emory University in Georgia, the University of Alaska at Anchorage, and the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
Alsop and others at WVU said they will carefully watch the COVID-19 test rates and positive cases, as well as hospitalizations before making any decision about going fully online.
Alsop also said the COVID-19 situation is now much different than what it was in March when the university switched to online learning. At that time, he said they were told the virus was spreading quickly.
“Also, kids were going on spring break,” he said. “And we didn’t know a lot about the virus. We also have a lot more PPE.
“We have a lot of kids excited for the fall.”