Westminster will see the return of college students in August. McDaniel College informed students that the college campus will be reopening to students for the fall 2020 semester, with a hybrid mix of online and in-person classes and many changes to campus life.
President Roger Casey created the Return to the Hill Task Force, led by Executive Vice President/Provost Julia Jasken, to make recommendations on nearly every aspect of college operations. They received guidance from state and county health officials.
“One of the things that has been very clear to me in the last few weeks especially is that our faculty are really missing the students and really wanting to get back into in-person instruction,” she said. “I think that it’s a significant responsibility for us to make sure that we can do that as safely as possible. And we take that incredibly seriously.
“And so, at the same time that we are eager to get back to the way things were pre-COVID we understand that there are some things that are going to change and that’s going to be an adjustment for everyone. But we are definitely looking forward to having our students back in the fall.”
According to a news release from McDaniel, the college is absorbing more than $1 million in health and safety expenses.
Some staff began returning to campus when Carroll County entered “Phase II” of the state reopening plan. The admissions office started taking appointments for prospective students to visit on June 15.
McDaniel Local, the orientation program for first-year students, will be offered in person or virtually for students starting in July.
Mayor Joe Dominick, an alumnus, said they probably won’t be able to do the 200-person Westminster Welcome in downtown, but “McDaniel is a jewel in the middle of our city. We’re fortunate to have an institution like that here and very much look forward to students’ return back to school and back to the city of Westminster.”
The semester will begin Aug. 20 and most students are expected to move onto the campus between Aug. 14 and Aug. 19. To reduce the time students are grouped in classrooms, the semester will be broken into two 7-week sessions. A student who might normally take four classes per semester will take two during each session.
In addition to the safety benefits of attending fewer classes, Jasken hopes this move will help students academically, based on feedback they got after the college went online last spring.
“When you’re in an environment where you’re not 100% face to face, it can be a lot to keep track of in terms of four classes that are running in different kinds of ways,” she said.
The college made other changes to the schedule, eliminating the fall break in October and planning to end the semester on Nov. 24. Last year’s semester ended Dec. 13. Students will not return for classes or exams after Thanksgiving.
Classes will take three forms: traditional, hybrid and fully online. In general, the college is looking to host more lower level classes as hybrids. Most of the fully online classes will be upper level. all graduate and professional studies classes were already online, so the structure will not change.
“As many traditional in-person classes will be offered as possible as long as physical distancing can be maintained,” according to the release.
County Health Officer Ed Singer, a McDaniel alumnus, signed off on the plan. He said the department worked closely with the college’s leadership.
He is quoted as saying in the release: “It is apparent that McDaniel College’s Return to the Hill planning process has been thoughtful, deliberate, and thorough.”
Faculty, students and anyone else on campus will be required to wear face masks while inside buildings that are not their immediate living space. Masks will not be required in outdoor spaces as long as physical distancing is maintained. Housekeeping staff will be expected to clean and sanitize more frequently, focused on high-touch areas.
“COVID-19 testing protocols will be in place and McDaniel is prepared to enact testing, contact tracing and isolation protocols in conjunction with the Carroll County Health Department,” according to the release.
If cases emerge on campus, the health department will guide the college in its response. They are reserving beds for quarantining students if needed and have “expanded our relationship with a local testing facility called LabCorp to offer testing on campus.”
Students will be housed no more than two to a dorm room. There are new housing policies, available on the college’s website, including assigning shower stalls to residents and disallowing outside visitors in residences.
McDaniel surveyed students about what they would want for the fall semester, particularly in terms of housing, Jasken said.
“One of the things that has been very clear to us, both with our incoming students and our returning students, they are very eager to get back to in-person instruction and to the residential experience.”
She said it was too soon to say whether more students would have to seek out off-campus housing because of the two-roommate limit. The college is surveying all students who said they intended to live on-campus in the fall, so they can get a better picture of housing needs.
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Right now, “We we have a nice class coming in and we’re really happy with the number of deposits we have,” she said. As they share schedules and information with students, they will get a better idea of how many will come back or defer.
Dining services will limit the number of students allowed in the space at once and expand take-out options.
College athletics are waiting for the decision from the Centennial Conference about competition, but athletic teams will be able to participate in team activities and practices.
Tuition and room and board charges would remain the same regardless of whether a student’s courses were offered in person, hybrid or online.
The college scrapped the $75 fee for families to spread costs over a five-month payment plan and pushing the deadline for final payments back from July to August. No late fees will be issued for the 2020–2021 academic year.
The college told students in an email: “Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our priority at McDaniel has been the safety and well-being of the members of our community. … We look forward to welcoming you back to campus this fall even as we recognize that the coming year will look different than previous years. We continue to be guided by our First Principles and realize that our community’s ability to successfully operate will require each of us to commit to the long-term health of our community that will necessitate short-term sacrifices of each of us.”
The college created a Return to the Hill webpage to provide updates at www.mcdaniel.edu/RTTH.