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Howard Community College campus to be ‘fully operational’ in person for fall semester

Howard Community College is planning to gradually reopen this summer and be a “fully operational” campus in the fall, according to an April 23 news release from the school.

Starting with the summer session that begins June 2, the college’s operations will be 50% in person, with every office having preset hours for services and appointments. The community college’s buildings will be open with some study spaces available, and face masks will continue to be required on campus because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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“We are looking forward to having the full vibrancy of our student body on campus,” Howard Community College spokesperson Elizabeth Homan said. “We have missed seeing their faces and missed interactions with them. We are looking forward to seeing them in greater numbers this fall.”

When the fall semester begins Aug. 28, Howard Community College expects to offer full in-person services, 100% in-person courses, and the continuation of hybrid and virtual courses.

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“With the reopening plan, the college maximizes student success, while maintaining necessary precautions to protect the college community,” Howard Community College President Kathleen Hetherington said in the release.

The Columbia-based school has chosen to reopen further this summer because of the county’s high COVID-19 vaccination rate, Homan said.

Last week, Howard County became the second jurisdiction in the state — and first in the Central Maryland region — to have 50% of its entire population partially vaccinated. As of Tuesday, Howard County ranks first in the state with 54.5% of its population having received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot and 37.3% being fully vaccinated.

“Howard County has really been a leader in the number of residents who have been fully vaccinated,” Homan said. “For us, the increased number of vaccinations was an important threshold.”

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Homan also said the spring semester “went smoothly” for the college, which gave the reopening committee confidence in going further.

Four different course models will be offered at Howard Community College in the fall — the three formats from the 2020-21 academic year as well as a 100% face-to-face option.

The fully in-person courses will be the first for the college since March 2020 before the pandemic caused the campus to shut down.

The other three forms of classes — hybrid, scheduled remote and flexible online — depend on the type of course. Hybrid classes are held both on campus and online at about a 50-50 split for labs and other types of instruction that require hands-on learning. Scheduled remote classes will be conducted online with specific times of instruction using the Zoom video conferencing app. Flexible online classes will allow students to learn and complete assignments on their own time, while utilizing Zoom and other platforms for recorded lectures.

Homan said the college doesn’t know yet what the percentage breakdown will be among the four options. Fall registration is currently open, but the college is still working to add more scheduling options through May 3.

While Homan expects more in-person classes to be offered in future semesters as the pandemic metrics improve, she did say some level of virtual learning will remain.

“Without a doubt, we really undertook a robust effort to ensure all of our faculty at all levels were prepared to teach in a remote environment,” Homan said. “One thing that has come out of this is that our institution and our students and faculty are really in a stronger place when it comes to remote and virtual education.”

The college returning closer to normal is part of the reason why Hetherington, who has served as Howard Community College’s president since 2007, is retiring in October. Hetherington, who has spent her entire career working at community colleges, said October is the right time because the college is in “great shape.”

With the college opening more, Homan said college officials will continue to track the county’s coronavirus metrics. The college has a chart on its website for the metrics it is using to guide its decision-making. For example, the college could return to a remote environment if at least two of these three indicators are met: the county’s weekly positivity rate is above 10%; the county’s weekly rolling new-case rate is more than 25 per 100,000; or Howard Community College’s reported seven-day average of positive cases is more than 10.

“We are constantly tracking our numbers and the numbers from the health department,” Homan said. “With reopening, we still want to keep the safety and wellness for our students, faculty and staff at top of mind.”

While some colleges, like the University System of Maryland’s 12 schools and Morgan State University, are mandating that students, faculty and staff be vaccinated against COVID-19, Homan said Howard Community College, which is not a residential campus, is not planning to do the same.

The spring semester ends May 21, and the college’s virtual commencement ceremony is scheduled for May 27.

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