What will BYU, other Utah universities look like for fall?

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A photo of the Wilkinson Student Center before and after the pandemic. BYU is one of the few universities in Utah that has not made a decision regarding on-campus classes for Fall Semester. (Photo illustration by Hannah Miner)

BYU announced it will not make a decision until July about Fall Semester classes, but other universities around the country have already decided what they will be doing in the fall.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, BYU is one of 7% of universities nationwide in the “waiting to decide” range, while other schools in Utah, such as Utah State University, Snow College, The University of Utah, Utah Valley University and Southern Utah University are planning to hold in-person classes in the fall.

BYU spokesman Todd Hollingshead said the university is studying a number of options for fall but that there are no details on specifics. “Ideally, we would like for all students, faculty and staff to be on campus learning together and we’re working on plans that we hope can make that happen in some form,” Hollingshead said. “But, of course, our first priority is the health and safety of our campus community.”

In a letter to all faculty and staff, BYU Academic Vice President Shane Reese said teams of deans and vice presidents are studying four variables going into the decision for fall: expanded instructional technology and instructional spaces, including classroom hygiene; a revised fall class schedule; available remote learning modes and support for teachers and learners within those modes; and an expanded BYU Online.

The letter also mentioned that priority registration for Fall Semester would be postponed until July 6. “This delay will allow us to consider a revised class schedule that maximizes the use of campus facilities for social-distanced instruction, and to determine the best mode of delivery for class sections,” Reese said in the letter.

Dr. Keith Willmore, the BYU Student Health Center Medical director, said he expects schools that open in the fall will have some kind of plan for social distancing, like smaller class sizes or holding classes in a larger area in order to spread people out. He also anticipates that students will wear masks and campuses will continue to place emphasis on hand washing and avoiding face touching.

“The things that will make it safe for students to come back are the things that the state is recommending,” Willmore said.

Willmore said he believes Utah County is a very safe area. As of June 5, there were 1,826 people in Utah County who tested positive for COVID-19 out of a population of roughly 600,000. That’s about .35% of people who have tested positive in Utah County. “The risk here currently is very, very low,” Willmore said.

Willmore said that for most BYU students, coming back to Provo in the fall would be safer than staying at home because of how low the risk is in Utah County as opposed to other places.

Other universities in Utah

On June 1, the University of Utah released a detailed plan of how Fall Semester will look, including in-person classes until Thanksgiving and then online classes afterward; required safety trainings for the campus community prior to returning to campus; and having face coverings be worn in all common areas of campus including hallways, classrooms, conferences rooms, restrooms and lounge areas.

Willmore said he sees the fact that the University of Utah is planning to hold in-person classes in the fall as a very positive thing because the university has a medical school on campus, meaning it is actively caring for patients with COVID-19. Willmore is hopeful BYU will follow and hold in-person classes as well, as he believes the BYU campus is even safer without the risk of a medical school on campus.

University of Utah Communications Director Chris Nelson said, “We’re working on several scenarios for a fall opening, all designed to deliver the on-campus, in-person experiences that make the college years memorable for a lifetime.”

Among these options are smaller classes with safe physical distancing, more sessions throughout the day and evening; hybrid in-person and online classes; the use of virtual tools that allow students to work in pairs or small groups; lab, studio, interactive and creative offerings for small groups; and adjustments to campus living, dining, study and recreational amenities to promote public health.

On May 27, Utah State University, Southern Utah University and Salt Lake Community College announced they were planning for face-to-face classes in the fall, after the Utah System of Higher Education announced a plan of welcoming students back to campuses across the state for the Fall Semester.

According to the Utah State website, “USU administrators are currently in the process of creating guidelines for departments and offices to resume more in-person operations in a phased approach that allows for responding to COVID-19 related challenges.”

KSL reported that Utah State University president, Noelle Cockett, said the university will absolutely have in-person classes in the fall, even though the classes might not be full and may not be entirely in-person.

Utah Valley University announced on May 28 it will be holding classes in a variety of different ways, including face-to-face, according to its website. “As the university is preparing for fall, it will be leveraging digital technologies and an innovative approach to scheduling to support a wide range of course options — from face-to-face instruction, remote learning, and hybrid classes that include both in-person and online education.”

According to Weber State University’s website, which was updated on May 28, the university expects to have more details on how on-campus classes in fall semester will work. More details are expected sometime in June.

Dixie State University is working toward the goal of holding classes in person starting in the Fall Semester but will continue to closely follow Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s guidelines and will adhere to any recommendations concerning public gatherings come fall, according to its website.

Snow College’s website says it is planning on face-to-face instruction, but that this might look a little bit different as they implement physical distancing for safety.

Different models

National Public Radio examined ways college campuses might be different in the fall, beyond just being completely remote. Some of these models include a delayed start, a hybrid model which consists of a mixture between online and face-to-face classes, and a shortened semester.

One of the models discussed is resuming in-person classes in the fall, but shortening the semester to be completed by Thanksgiving. Doctor Anthony Fauci told The Chronicle of Higher Education “it prevents the back and forth, which would be enhancing transmission at a time of the season when you would likely see a considerable amount of respiratory-borne illness.”

Other universities throughout the country

Universities across the country are also putting plans in place for Fall Semester, most planning to go back to in-person. But some, like California State University Fullerton, are planning to continue remote learning through fall.

“The University of South Carolina, Notre Dame, Rice and Creighton are among the schools that have said they will find ways to shorten the Fall Semester in an attempt to avoid a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus infections expected to emerge in late fall,” according to The New York Times.

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger announced on May 14 the university would be adopting a three-term model for the upcoming school year. “By leveraging a longer period of time, we will be able to de-densify our campus so that all students may experience much, if not most, of their coursework in person over the arc of the three terms,” Bollinger said in a letter to the Columbia University campus community.

The CDC offers considerations to the institutes of higher education, in which the institutions can help slow the spread of the virus. According to the CDC’s Considerations for Institutes of Higher Education there are three different risk phases for college campuses.

  • Lowest Risk: Faculty and students engage in virtual-only learning options, activities, and events.
  • Higher Risk: Small in-person classes, activities, and events. Individuals remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).
  • Highest Risk: Full-sized in-person classes, activities, and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.
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