A guide to what higher-ed honchos should include in fall plans

Plus, a look at what other liberal arts colleges are planning

Good morning, and happy Friday. Before we begin, today is Juneteenth, the holiday marking and commemorating the formal end of slavery in the United States. You can follow live Juneteenth updates today at The New York Times.

Today, we summarize a new document that could help higher-education leaders plan for the fall, and we look at what other liberal arts colleges around the country are saying about their upcoming semester plans. 

➡️ICYMI: Yesterday, we talked to interim library director Steve Lawson about how Tutt Library is assisting the community during the pandemic, and we learned what it takes to become a certified contact tracer.

We read that 96-page “COVID-19 Planning Guide and Self-Assessment for Higher Education” report so you don’t have to

On June 12, OpenSmartEDU, in collaboration with Tuscany Strategy Consulting, Council for Higher Education Accreditation, and Johns Hopkins University, published a toolkit for higher-education leaders making plans for the fall. 

It is long. It is dense. And if you aren’t a higher-education leader (or a journalist), you probably don’t have time to read the whole thing. That’s OK ⁠— because we read it for you and turned the highlights into the following to-do list, in case you were wondering what’s currently keeping administrators up at night:

Does your institution have sufficient health & safety materials and protocols to address the unique challenges of COVID-19?

  • Have you modeled the risk of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths for your institution?

  • Have you determined under which conditions students will not be allowed to leave campus, and visitors will not be allowed to come on campus?

  • Have you established protocols for returning to campus, including a detailed testing plan, symptom-screening and contact-tracing capabilities, and a 14-day quarantine before beginning classes on campus?

  • Have you determined the thresholds that would require you to declare an “institutional emergency,” and activate a contingency plan for such an emergency?

  • Have you taken steps to improve air filtration and circulation, increase sanitation procedures, and re-design facilities so they limit risk of COVID-19 transmission?

  • Have you approved and communicated expectations for social distancing and community behavior, and established a system to document everyone who enters and leaves a building?

  • Have you implemented a social contract for students, staff, and faculty? 

  • Have you communicated a means to accommodate students who cannot comply with COVID-19 protocols, and provided non-discriminatory procedures to reduce COVID-19 risk for vulnerable populations?

Does your institution have sufficient financial resources to address the unique challenges of the pandemic?

  • Have you created and analyzed financial models to assess plans for reopening campus?

  • Have you coordinated with the appropriate financial institutions with the goal of extending debt payments and increasing credit lines?

  • Have you checked insurance coverage for disruption and liability claims?

Has your institution developed a quality academic program for the year?

  • Have you adjusted timelines for students to make decisions about enrollment, and evaluated increased flexibility for deferrals and gap years? 

  • Have you worked to create multiple models of instruction to accommodate students who may not be able to return to campus? 

  • Have you redesigned instructional spaces to comply with distancing measures? 

  • Have you offered resources to staff and faculty to effectively teach online, and implemented academic support systems for all students? 

  • Have you determined how to support international students in returning to campus, obtaining necessary visas, or navigating mandatory quarantines? 

  • Have you modified orientation programming to sufficiently meet all students’ needs? 

  • Have you created plans for reducing density in residence halls? 

  • Have you updated food service protocols to remove buffets and primarily offer grab-and-go options?  

  • Have you coordinated with varsity and recreational athletics staff to provide a safe environment to resume on-campus athletic activities? 

  • Have you communicated with student health providers to provide health services and mental health care to students remotely or in ways that reduce possible exposure to COVID-19? 

Has your institution developed the requisite new management and oversight capabilities necessary to manage through the pandemic?

  • Have you activated an “Emergency Operations Center” to manage campus health concerns and potential COVID-19 outbreaks?

  • Have you involved students in the planning workgroups so their concerns are included?

  • Have you developed workgroups with clear roles and responsibilities, including groups to actively monitor new information on COVID-19 epidemiology and best practices?

If you’re still a bit confused about what this all means, we don’t blame you — administrators have a lot to consider when creating a plan for the fall. But this checklist provides a rudimentary idea of what higher-ed leaders may be discussing behind closed doors. 

Blocks, Modules, and Staggered Skeds: Liberal arts colleges plan for the fall

We’re back with our weekly update on COVID-19 higher-ed announcements, this time from similarly sized liberal arts colleges across the country. This is a well-rounded interdisciplinary discussion-based breakdown.

Cornell College in Iowa is one of the only other colleges in the country that follows a Block Plan format. This week, they announced a plan for a phased reopening. The phases are as follows:

  • Phase 0 took place from March 9 to June 15 and involved closed offices and residence halls, non-essential staff working from home, and classes taking place virtually.

  • Phase 1 began June 15 and will allow some offices to open with safety measures in place, including staggered schedules.

  • Phase 2 date range TBD, will allow all offices to open with safety protocols, but meetings will still take place virtually. Some students can live on campus, with limited dining services available.

  • Phase 3 will begin to allow small gatherings to take place, and students will return to campus in phased groups.

  • Phase 4 will take things back to “normal,” with no limit on social gatherings and relaxed social distancing rules.

Beloit College in Wisconsin announced March 31 they were moving to a “module” based system for the fall semester, beginning Sept. 8. Each module will be seven weeks long, and students will take two classes per module. Administrators say this plan provides more flexibility because they will have more time to make decisions for the fall, and if necessary, Module 1 could be delivered remotely and students could return in early November to complete Module 2 in person. 

Grinnell College in Iowa has divided the 2020-21 academic year into four terms. Each term will be seven and a half weeks long, and professors will offer classes in both in-person and via distance learning. Fall 1 will begin Aug. 24, and Fall 2 will start Oct. 22. They are “planning for a low-density campus this fall” with at least 500 of the 1,700 students attending in-person classes. First-year students will be on campus for the first term, and the college will use undisclosed factors to identify which upper-class students can come to campus. Grinnell signed an agreement with Tempus, a private testing firm, to administer COVID-19 tests. “Testing costs will be covered by the College’s reserve funds set aside to mitigate risk and address crises,” administrators wrote in a May 22 memo. 

Lehigh University in Pennsylvania is planning to start the fall semester in-person Aug. 24, and finish in-person instruction before Thanksgiving break. Courses and exams will finish remotely in December. If in-person classes resume, administrators say large lectures will be done virtually, and many courses will be offered remotely for those who cannot be on campus. They are preparing larger facilities, including an arts center and two athletic facilities, “for academic use.” Additionally, they have suspended plans to demolish an apartment complex so rooms will be available there this fall. The university is working with local hotels to provide additional housing, if necessary. 

St. Olaf College in Minnesota announced June 16 the fall semester will start three weeks earlier than previously planned, and will conclude on Nov. 24, before Thanksgiving. Winter break will now run from Nov. 25 to Jan. 3, and the spring semester is tentatively set to begin Jan. 4. All students, staff, and faculty have to sign a community pledge before classes begin Aug. 20. In addition to following all college guidelines on leaving campus, avoiding non-essential travel, and bringing guests on campus, the pledge also includes provisions including: 

  • “I will monitor my temperature and participate in the College’s daily health screening measures to determine whether it is appropriate for me to be moving about campus or whether to come to work. If I have a change in my health status, I will follow the reporting protocol requirements and provide accurate and complete information.”

  • “I will complete and comply with all required COVID-19 related online training modules.”

About the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project

The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project is a student-faculty collaboration by Colorado College student journalists Miriam Brown and Arielle Gordon, Visiting Assistant Professor of Journalism Corey Hutchins, Assistant Professor of English Najnin Islam, and Journalism Institute Director Steven Hayward. Work by Phoebe Lostroh, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at CC and National Science Foundation Program Director in Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, will appear from time to time, as will infographics by Colorado College students Rana Abdu, Aleesa Chua, Sara Dixon, Jia Mei, and Lindsey Smith.

The project seeks to provide frequent updates about CC and other higher education institutions during the pandemic by providing original reporting, analysis, interviews with campus leaders, and context about what state and national headlines mean for the CC community. 

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