CC’s plan for the fall explained. With questions.

Spoiler: there's still a lot to do before Aug. 14

Good morning, and happy Monday. On this pre-pandemic date last year, Colorado College was hosting a Robson Arena Community Meeting on campus about the new hockey rink. (Currently, gatherings in Colorado of more than 50 people are discouraged, and you can watch a 24-hour livestream of the arena’s ongoing construction — yes, really — on YouTube.)

Today is the newsletter we’ve been waiting to write since we started this project a month ago — Colorado College has announced its plans for fall. Below, we’ll explain what it all means and the steps CC will likely have to take next.

➡️ICYMI: On Friday, we recapped how one CC student group used its leftover budget funds to donate to a local soup kitchen and how another CC group is mass-producing 3D face shields. We also gave an update on how Colorado higher-ed’s plans for fall are unfolding.

It’s here. CC has announced a plan for fall. So what’s next?

NOTE: These represent our own opinions and not necessarily those of Colorado College.

Cutting it down to the wire, Colorado College fulfilled its commitment on Friday to have a plan for fall by the end of June. You’ve probably already read the official announcement a couple times over — this is not one of those emails you let go unread in your inbox — so we won’t recap it in-depth for you. Instead, we’ll explain how the plan fits into a broader national context and what questions Colorado College might need to answer next. If you also have additional questions you want us to try to answer, email us at ccreportingproject@gmail.com.

⛺️ How CC will use a “phased approach” in returning to campus 

Colorado College, like many other higher-ed institutions, is tuition-dependent, and retaining as many members of the incoming first-year class as possible is financially necessary. By providing a modified NSO experience, and allowing all first-year students to return to campus for Block 1 and complete their first blocks in-person, CC is making it appealing for those students to enroll. (Professors have, however, been given the option to teach their Block 1 classes online if they do not want to teach in person.) According to an FAQ page CC released June 26, students wishing to take a gap semester or year should contact the Office of Admission. 

Upper-class students have already established relationships and communities on campus and had two blocks of distance-learning experience last semester. Although our survey of 106 students showed 52% disliked distance learning to some degree, these students do not require the same on-campus resources and support the first-year students will during Block 1. 

At first glance, these plans seem to provide both first-year and upper-class students with most of the information they need to prepare for fall, but there are still some questions to work out: 

  • Will all students and faculty be tested for the virus upon their return to campus? 

  • Will everyone have to enter into a mandatory quarantine before coming into contact with anyone else?

  • How will Outdoor Education keep students and community members safe while leaving campus for Priddy Experiences?

  • How will move-in be structured for upper-class students returning ahead of Block 2? Will it mirror the new three-day process for NSO?

🏥 What CC will do to try to keep its community safe

If you’ve been following along with us for a while, nothing about CC’s planned COVID-19 protocols should surprise you. 

The college will: require masks and social distancing; install Plexiglass shields at counters around campus; have a team of contact tracers who will work with El Paso County Public Health; partner with a “large healthcare organization” to conduct testing on campus; and identify rooms to be used for quarantine and isolation purposes.

However, currently CC’s plan for safety protocols only addresses a few of the questions from our recent guide to what higher-ed plans should include in the fall. For its next steps, CC will likely have to answer some of the following questions:

  • The announcement mentions that CC’s approach will include “proper ventilation in all areas,” a crucial step to reducing the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission by aerosol. At this time, the “when,” “where,” and “how” of ensuring proper ventilation is unclear.

  • Colorado uses a series of COVID-19 “thresholds” (which we will explain more tomorrow) to make policy decisions. Does CC also have a series of thresholds that would constitute an institutional emergency and a back-up plan for such an emergency? How will the state of the coronavirus in the surrounding Colorado Springs community affect CC protocols?

  • CC says any symptomatic students, faculty, or staff will receive testing, but will testing be free? Otherwise, how will it fit into CC’s insurance plans?

  • Some schools are implementing safety pledges or contracts for students returning to campus. Will CC use a similar strategy to encourage the CC community to follow coronavirus guidelines?

🛫 How travel fits into CC’s safety protocols 

During a normal school year, Colorado College students, staff, and faculty are frequently on the move. Students come from 49 U.S. states and 55 countries; professors teach classes abroad; and students spend Block Breaks traveling around Colorado, or to nearby states, or even out of the country. This year, things will look a little different. The college has cancelled all fall study away blocks, and anyone who has traveled to a “hotspot” during the school year will have to stay home for three days and take their temperature daily. Anyone who is re-entering campus after traveling internationally will likely have to quarantine for 14 days, while checking their temperature twice daily and monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms. Here’s where it gets even more complicated:

  • CC is not CC without Block Breaks, so there will still be the usual breaks in between classes. “The breaks are key to allow faculty to grade and prep for subsequent blocks as well as to give students mental health breaks between blocks,” reads an FAQ page. With these Block Breaks, there will be travel restrictions, likely TBD on national and state public guidelines. Usually, campus operates with limited dining operations during Block Breaks. With more students staying put, how will campus adjust its operations during breaks?

  • If students travel out-of-state for Thanksgiving Break, they will not be allowed to return to campus for Block 4 and will take their Block 4 course remotely. Many other colleges plan to take a similar approach to Thanksgiving Break. Will there be enough students and faculty who don’t leave Colorado during that time to hold any in-person classes during Block 4? It seems like the college is asking the same question, with one of the Summer Work Teams “looking into the possibility” of teaching Block 4 classes entirely online.

📝 How the Block Plan fits into the staggered reopening and travel protocols 

Colorado College has frequently touted additional flexibility the Block Plan offers because it’s less disruptive to make changes between blocks as opposed to during a traditional semester. 

On one hand, the college is taking advantage of the Block Plan by bringing some students back at the beginning of the semester and allowing others to return later, but those students who return for Block 2 might only be able to spend half of the semester on campus if they leave for Thanksgiving. Our survey showed that 89% of 106 students want to return to campus in the fall, and 67% preferred classes to be held in-person. But will coming for just two blocks — with class formats still up in the air — be enough reason for students to return? 

Questions students are probably asking right now: 

  • When will upper-class students have to decide if they want to enroll in a distance-learning class for Block 1 or take the block off? 

  • When will professors have to decide and notify students if they are choosing to teach a block virtually? When will students be able to decide if they will enroll in a block if the format is changed? 

  • Will refunds be offered per block a student elects not to enroll? 

  • How will classes be run if some students attend in person and some are remote? Does CC have the necessary technology to equip classrooms for Zoom? 

  • What will the grading policies be? Will students have an extended period of time to choose their grade track for each block? 

  • How will the preregistration and points system work when students register for J block and summer blocks? 

🏠 What’s happening with housing and student life 

Some students, including upperclassmen in apartments, have already received their housing assignments. For everyone else, the housing selection process that usually happens Block 8 will begin July 6. The college is temporarily saying goodbye to the overflow triple. (Silver linings, anyone?) Some schools are considering acquiring additional housing in off-campus apartments and hotels to make sure overflow triples, a.k.a “triple-occupied doubles,” are gone for good, but the criteria for living off-campus at CC has not changed. 

Beginning in mid-July, some staff and student employees will begin to return to campus, following Colorado’s 50% density limit. Last semester Colorado College continued paying work-study students who had not received their full award, but in the fall, work-study students will only receive payment for the hours they work. Students will need to be on campus to work an on-campus job, leaving some student employees with limited ability to take blocks off.

✉️ Where to look for your next CC updates

Over the next two weeks, CC plans to hold five town halls to answer additional questions about the following topics: New students, CC employees, NCAA athletics, academics, and safety/testing. We will be attending these meetings, so be on the lookout for future recaps of what you might have missed. And as always, hit us up with any questions you have along the way.

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. 

📬 Enter your email address to subscribe and get the newsletter in your inbox each time it comes out. You can reach us with questions, feedback, or news tips by emailing ccreportingproject@gmail.com.