Incoming freshmen at Marshall University will have an introduction to student life that will be much different than what last year’s freshman class experienced.
For one thing, there could well be fewer of them. At the university’s Board of Governors meeting last week, Marshall President Jerome Gilbert said enrollment is expected to be down 5% to 15% this fall, thanks mainly to the novel coronavirus that has changed the way about everyone does business.
Classes probably will be smaller, and not just because of the enrollment drop. Classrooms will be limited to 50% capacity, and professors will teach behind plexiglass. What that means for how students and instructors interact before, during and after class remains to be seen.
Delivery of instruction will change, too. Marshall is implementing a revised academic plan that features a mix of face-to-face classes, online classes and hybrid settings. The university’s academic calendar has been adjusted to minimize travel to and from campus once the fall and spring semesters begin, while maintaining the required number of instructional days. Classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 24, with students completing the semester online after the Thanksgiving break. So after Thanksgiving, students won’t be back on campus until spring semester begins in January.
Along with fewer students, there could be fewer classes. Marshall has implemented a set of budget cuts to compensate for reduced enrollment and increased expenses related to the coronavirus. Courses with low enrollments could be eliminated.
All students and employees will be given a return-to-campus kit containing face coverings and hand sanitizer. Students and employees will be required to wear face coverings while inside all university buildings, except for when alone in a personal workspace. The mask requirement has been added to the student code of conduct.
Students living on campus will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival. Students and staff will also be able to take a daily health assessment developed by the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Educational and awareness signage will be posted throughout the main corridors of all buildings
Methods for cleaning and sanitizing all university buildings in accordance with recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and using products approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for being effective against the COVID-19 virus have been adopted.
As with most other responses to the novel coronavirus, some of these changes will be permanent while some are likely to be temporary. Brandi Jacobs-Jones, Marshall’s senior vice president for operations and chief of staff, said administrators expect the return-to-campus plan will change and change frequently as more is learned about the virus.
The effects of these changes will be felt beyond the campus itself. Businesses and institutions that do business with Marshall, its employees and its students undoubtedly will have to adjust their expectations for the next 12 months if they haven’t done so already.
Marshall and Huntington could be in for a difficult year. It for sure will be a different one. Even if the virus were gone by the middle of 2021, Marshall officials will have to decide which virus-related safety measures they will keep long-term and which they can remove. They will also have to deal with the financial impact wrought by COVID-19 this year.
As much as we wish it would go away now, the impact of the novel coronavirus will be felt at Marshall, in Huntington and in college towns throughout the nation for a long time.