Masks for faculty and students. Modified schedules with exams taken remotely at the end of the semester. Sticking to small cohorts for classes and more to-go options at the dining hall.

These are some of the changes private colleges and universities in Maine are considering or have announced as they plan how to welcome students back to campus in the fall.

While the schools are in various stages of planning, many have started to make decisions about some aspects of what a return to school will look like – both with and without the coronavirus becoming a presence on campus.

Right now their plans include considerations for academics, including both in-person and hybrid learning models; dining and housing logistics; a need for stepped-up health precautions and coronavirus testing; and concerns about the financial impact of so many changes.

The decisions come shortly after a coalition of both public and private schools agreed on a common framework for reopening to guide the decision making process and as college campuses around the country are grappling with how to operate this fall after the virus forced mass shutdowns in March.

“There are a lot of unknowns and uncertainties, but we’re confident we’re spending a tremendous amount of time planning and trying to think through every contingency so we’re prepared,” University of New England President James Herbert said.

“We’re not naive. We’re going to do everything we can to keep the virus off campus, but we’re not so naive as to think it won’t happen here. It could happen here and if it does we need to be prepared for how we’re going to handle it.”

Undergraduates at UNE will follow a modified schedule this fall, returning to in-person classes as scheduled on Aug. 26, but with no fall holidays or breaks. In-person classes will end at Thanksgiving, students will take exams remotely and not return to campus until the spring semester starts Jan. 13.

“That’s so we minimize the chances of people going home and then returning with the virus,” Herbert said.

The university enrolls about 2,400 undergraduates and about 6,000 full-time-equivalent students total.

University of New England President James Herbert poses Monday outside his Biddeford office. UNE plans to welcome students back Aug. 26, with changes to the fall schedule, a requirement for students and faculty members to wear masks, and other modifications to campus operations. Herbert said, “We’re going to do everything we can to keep the virus off campus, but we’re not so naive as to think it won’t happen here.”  Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Some of its medical and health professions programs require clinical training that must be done on-campus or in-person. While those students will return in July, they’ll follow strict procedures for social distancing and using personal protective equipment, will have a limited presence on campus and will stick to consistent cohorts to limit cross-contamination and allow for easier contact tracing.

Summer orientations will be replaced by a virtual program, while a traditional fall orientation will be held in August but with modifications on group sizes.

Colby College in Waterville will likely start in-person classes earlier than normal and look to complete the semester by Thanksgiving, though the planning process is ongoing and more detailed plans are expected next month, the college said in a statement. It enrolls about 2,000 students.

Colby said the scheduling change would allow its regular course structure to remain intact while also providing for an increase in “safety for the campus and local communities after Thanksgiving when students would normally be returning from various locations, and decrease the risk of a convergence of influenza and COVID-19 spread at the end of the calendar year.”

Bates College in Lewiston, which enrolls roughly 1,800 students, also is planning on a change to the fall schedule that would divide the fall semester into two parts in which students would take two classes each. The “2+2 semester format” will allow for more flexibility and ensure that if COVID-19 does force another closure, it won’t be so disruptive, according to the Sun Journal, which first reported on Bates’ plans on Monday.

Doug Cook, a spokesman for Bowdoin College, said decisions around the fall have not yet been made but are expected soon.

Meanwhile some schools are considering a hybrid approach to fall classes, such as Unity College, which is still evaluating the logistics of in-person classes and hasn’t made any decisions yet about an in-person return.

The environmentally focused college launched a new hybrid learning program in May, partly in response to the complications presented by the virus. The program gives students the option to complete their degrees through a mix of in-person and remote classes and offers flexible start dates.

About 100 students have registered for hybrid learning so far, college spokesman Joel Crabtree said, noting that the college is projecting between 250 to 350 students to enroll in hybrid learning for the fall. It enrolled about 715 undergraduates as of 2018.

Bar Harbor’s College of the Atlantic, while planning on welcoming most students and faculty back in-person, is also making plans for hybrid learning after hearing from a number who cannot or are choosing not to return, according to a letter from college President Darron Collins to the community June 3.

Colleges are also looking at ways to safely social distance and implement health protocols on campus by lessening the interactions between groups of students and setting up different housing and dining options.

UNE is making it mandatory for students and employees to wear masks and will be providing university-branded cloth masks to everyone.

The university will also be leasing space in a local hotel to house students since they are doing away with triple capacity dorm rooms and limiting occupancy to singles and doubles. Exactly how many students will be impacted, what hotel will be used and how transportation to and from campus will be provided are still to be determined.

Masks also will be required at Husson University, where students will return to campus Aug. 31 and faculty are undergoing training on how to adjust their course offerings to an online format. The university enrolls about 3,500 students, about 1,000 of whom live on campus.

They’re trying to ensure that whenever there are multiple sections of a course, at least one section is available online to give students who have medical concerns or other needs more flexibility, said Lynne Coy-Ogan, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

“We’re planning for the opening but we’re also planning for CDC recommendations if COVID escalates,” Coy-Ogan said. “We want to be ready well in advance. We’re trying to maximize our time this summer by making those plans and prioritizing training for faculty.”

For dining halls, campuses are considering doing away with self-serve options and providing more to-go or grab-and-go style meals. Bates will be assigning students designated times to visit the Commons dining hall so that students are mixing with fewer people each day.

College of the Atlantic’s Collins said that while the school’s kitchen will continue to produce the same food it always has, delivery will be different with more to-go and bag lunch options.

The many modifications and changes colleges are planning for the fall will come with a price tag, though some leaders said they don’t yet have a full picture of what those costs will be.

At the University of New England, Herbert said that while new freshmen enrollment numbers are down slightly, the university has held steady or seen improvements in retention rates and enrollment in graduate programs. He said revenue losses and additional costs will be in the millions, but as long as the university is able to open to in-person instruction in the fall as planned there will not be a need for any major budget cuts.

“If for some reason we can’t open to in-person instruction in the fall, it’s a whole different story,” Herbert said. “Because then we would anticipate a lot of students who stuck with us in the spring – it’s much more questionable whether they would stick with us next academic year. A lot of students would probably say, ‘Forget this.'”

At Husson, Coy-Ogan said the financial investments are significant, but trustees have been working to prioritize costs throughout the summer. She also said there have not been dramatic reductions in enrollment due to the virus.

“We’re seeing very strong incoming numbers,” Coy-Ogan said. “We are certainly tracking the trends across the country, but we have not experienced that dramatic decline that many other institutions have.”

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