TRAVERSE CITY — While summer events were being canceled due to COVID-19, a majority of public universities and some community colleges in Michigan pledged to return to campus in the fall.
Some remain optimistic, others are not as hopeful about the upcoming plans.
“My suspicion: Colleges are holding out hope of in-person classes in order to keep up enrollments,” University of Michigan economic professor Susan Dynarski wrote on Twitter.
Susan Dynarski could not be reached for an interview.
“If they tell the difficult truth now, many students will decide to take a year off,” she wrote in a series of tweets. “This will send college finances into a tailspin.” Jason Taylor, economic professor at Central Michigan University said there’s a chance of reverting to online.
“Our default plan is to meet face-to-face and I think everybody understands these things could change,” Taylor said.
A lack of concrete plans has some students feeling excited and others doubting they’ll get the year of college they hope for. Fourth year Central Michigan University student, Cole Wernette said he expects plans to change.
“I just think that the university’s decision to open back up was based on many people being uncertain whether the semester is being held online as opposed to face-to-face,” Wernette said. “It’s no secret that CMU is hurting for students right now and by assuring them that they will have school in person, students are far more likely to come back.”
Universities like Northern Michigan and Central Michigan announced an early start to the fall semester with the goal to reduce the number of breaks where students travel home and return to campus.
Despite reducing travel, Wernette said an early semester is the wrong call. He said many students, including himself, are finishing internships and spending their summer break across the state.
“By starting earlier, you actually increase the chances that someone brings it (the virus) back that first week because of the incubation period issue,” Wernette said.
Taylor said tentative plans to return to campus allow the universities the opportunity to better respond to the virus.
“To me, it makes sense to say the plan is we’re going to meet face-to-face and if things change, we’ll reevaluate,” Taylor said.
Whereas Wernette said beginning the fall semester with online classes is the best scenario because if an outbreak were to occur, classes would move to online anyway.
“It’s really more a question of when, not if,” Wernette said.
Northwestern Michigan College has not yet announced changes to its academic calendar.
NMC spokesperson, Diana Fairbanks said an early start or end date to the upcoming fall semester is a part of the discussion.
“At this point we’re still recommending following the academic calendar as it is laid out,” she said. “But, we recognize where we may see an option to adjust — that is, the idea of returning to campus after the Thanksgiving break. Right now, we’re not planning on changing that but we do understand that that may be something we need to keep an eye on.”
The current plan to implement hybrid learning takes a similar approach at Michigan State University.
The public university will begin the fall semester in the first week of September, which is on track with the previous schedule.
The difference is that Michigan State University plans to end the fall semester online.
MSU graduate student Jaime DeKraker is studying social work. She said for this reason, she’s happy with the decision to have in-person classes; one of her courses requires her to have field experience.
So far, her classes are in person but she doesn’t know if she’ll be required to wear a mask or maintain social distancing. The university’s plans have yet to release this information.
“I think everyone’s just trying to do the best that they can with what they’ve been given,” she said.
At NMC, general education courses are planned to include a hybrid of in-person and remote classes. Some programs are expected to meet in person because of accreditation requirements.
“I’m not a huge fan of online learning,” said Claire Butler, who’s studying culinary arts. “It’s really valuable to be face-to-face. I’m not thrilled by the idea of their being online portions of these classes because I’m really paying to be there in the kitchen.”
Northern Michigan University was the first public university to announce its plans to return to in person instruction. University spokesperson Derek Hall said based on feedback, high school seniors are looking forward to the fall.
“They’re very eager to get here based off what they just experienced in a closing year of high school and start college,” Hall said.
He said it is difficult to tell if that excitement shows in enrollment numbers. “Our numbers are tracking a little bit lower than last year,” Hall said. “It’s really tough to compare this year to last year because this year is nothing like a year we’ve had before.”
He said the university anticipates a decline this academic year, along with universities across the state.
“We’re all recruiting from the same pool and that pool is smaller this year than it was last year, then you layer on top of that the COVID crisis,” he said. “It’s a tough situation all across the board.”