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Md. colleges chart a course toward ‘normalcy’ in the fall

Goucher College officials say they will use the lessons learned from limited in-person attendance in the spring semester to base their class decisions in the fall. (The Daily Record/File Photo0

Goucher College officials say they will use the lessons learned from limited in-person attendance in the spring semester to base their class decisions in the fall. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

More Maryland schools have announced plans to expand in-person instruction in the summer and fall, while one has already begun increasing in-person learning midsemester.

Goucher College in Towson welcomed about 100 students back to campus the weekend of March 27 after conducting classes entirely virtually throughout the semester’s first seven weeks. The school had already had around 100 students living on campus.

The school is now offering around 40 so-called HyFlex courses that can be taken either in-person or online. School officials had first made the plan to welcome these students back to campus midsemester in hopes of allowing a small number of students the chance to have an on-campus experience while avoiding the nationwide spike in cases that struck near the beginning of the spring semester. They maintained the plan even when cases recently began increasing again, feeling that it would be unfair to the students to suddenly change course.

“We could handle the number that was coming even with the increase right now. It’s not ideal, but it’s what’s just for the students that made that commitment already,” said Aarika Camp, Goucher’s vice president of student affairs and dean of students.

According to Camp, the college will use this period to gauge what student behavior may look like in the fall. That, among other factors, will help Goucher decide to what extent the campus will be open in the fall.

“It’s hard now, looking five months out when who knows what five days from now will be,” Camp said. “I don’t think any school is going back 100% to how they functioned in 2019.”

The college’s intention is to have as many in-person courses as possible in the fall, she said, but it’s too early to say for certain if that will happen.

Still, that hasn’t stopped other schools from making announcements about the fall semester. Morgan State University and Notre Dame of Maryland University, for example, are the two most recent Maryland universities to announce plans to scale up in-person offerings come fall. Morgan State is planning to return to near-normal conditions, offering all classes in person; Notre Dame will do essentially the same, although courses that were offered virtually pre-pandemic will still be virtual.

“We know our students benefit most from person-to-person interaction and we are excited to welcome them back to campus this fall,” Notre Dame President Marylou Yam said in a statement.

But, the school noted in its announcement, increased reopening measures remain contingent on the state of the pandemic in the Baltimore region as well as guidance from local, state and federal authorities.

“While we are optimistic given the recent trends locally and in Maryland, we will be prepared to adjust as necessary in order to provide our students with a safe and exceptional educational experience,” Yam said.

Even with about 30% of Marylanders having received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, cases have still been on the rise statewide, including within Baltimore, where the city reports that number of new cases has increased 128% over the past month.

Morgan State plans to begin its gradual reopening with in-person commencement ceremonies, to be held in May, that will celebrate both those who graduated over the past few months of the pandemic and those on track to graduate in the spring. The school will then transition into in-person courses for the second half of its summer semester.

“This summer marks the beginning of a return to our traditions, a return to our normalcy and a resocialization, culminating this fall with vibrant university life befitting a National Treasure,” said Morgan State University President David Wilson in the school’s announcement.

Stevenson UniversityLoyola University MarylandMcDaniel College, the Maryland Institute College of ArtTowson University and the University of Maryland, College Park are among the institutions that have already announced plans to return to entirely, or nearly entirely, in-person instruction for the fall.

After previously announcing that it was aiming to “(maximize) in-person instruction within the constraints of physical distancing” in the fall, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County clarified on Monday that most classes will be face-to-face or hybridized next semester.

Schools planning to expand in-person offerings in the fall cite encouraging vaccination results as a primary reason they feel comfortable welcoming students back to campus. Like Notre Dame, however, most acknowledge that plans are susceptible to change. Many universities also noted in their announcements that some safety protocols, like masking and continued testing, will continue to be used in the fall.

According to reporting by Inside Higher Ed, many colleges may be deciding to announce their plans for the fall semester now because March and April are significant months for recruiting incoming freshmen, with most students making their final decisions by May.

Schools hope to attract students by promoting on-campus experiences and post-pandemic normalcy in hopes of elevating low enrollment numbers caused by the pandemic. Enrollment at public universities in Maryland was down 1.1% in fall 2020, while first-time enrollment was down 5%.

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