The University System of Maryland announced Friday that its institutions will feature both in-person and remote instruction during their fall semesters.
Within the next two weeks, the 12 universities will announce their specific plans separately for the upcoming semester. In April, university system Chancellor Jay A. Perman appointed a Return to Campus Advisory Group that has since established guidelines for how to most safely return students to campus amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m grateful for the thoughtful guidance the advisory group continues to provide,” Perman said in a statement. “I’ve said many times that USM institutions are incredibly diverse. Having university-based leaders on this group who understand that diversity — who can drill down into the implications of what each return-to-campus decision means for each university — is essential to good planning. The group’s insights have been critical as we approach the fall 2020 semester in the safest and most practical way possible.”
Towson University was the first to announce plans Friday. Officials there said classes will resume Aug. 24, a week earlier than usual, and in-person instruction will end Nov. 24 — before Thanksgiving break. In an email to students, the school’s Housing & Residential Life office said it will reduce the number of students in its residence halls and encouraged students to commute to campus if possible, offering a full housing deposit refund for any student who cancels his or her housing contract by June 10.
Given that universities draw a significant portion of their revenue from student fees such as tuition, room and board, many institutions in the state are facing financial challenges because of the pandemic.
Because of differences in location, size and student population, different schools — and even students in different areas of study — could begin and end their semesters at varying times. While most schools are expected to begin the semester in mid- to late August as usual, it’s possible some of the universities will complete the on-campus portion of their semester by Thanksgiving, almost a month earlier than normal.
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Deciding factors in how each institution will plan its semester include the number of residential and remote students, the possibility of athletics, and guidelines about other on-campus events. Study-abroad programs have been postponed through the fall.
The universities are working to reduce student density, both in living spaces and dining halls, the system said. Most schools will prohibit or limit the use of kitchens, lounges or other community spaces in residence halls, while several institutions will offer grab-and-go dining options to allow social distancing in dining halls.
Academically, a variety of courses will be offered exclusively online, while some studio, laboratory and clinical classes will be taught in-person, with a focus on social distancing in those cases. Each school also will have courses that are offered both virtually and in-person.
The system said each school would work to accommodate students, faculty and staff who are most at risk to the effects of the virus or make the determination to not return to campus.
“Chancellor Perman and the members of his advisory group understand the difficulty of these fall planning decisions. We know how important it is to best serve our students, faculty, and staff, with the highest emphasis on maintaining safety,” USM Board of Regents Chair Linda Gooden said in a statement. “The pandemic presents obstacles being felt throughout higher education. Our universities are committed to offering the best academic experience possible for our students, while maintaining health and well-being throughout the system.”