Colleges and universities across Arkansas are planning to resume in-person classes this fall, according to officials from around the state. On Monday (May 4), University of Arkansas University System trustees approved a resolution directing system leaders and campuses to work together to prepare campuses to “reopen to students, faculty and staff” in the fall.
UA System President Donald Bobbitt said opening up face-to-face instruction will be a difficult task.
“We have already demonstrated to some extent that on a moment’s notice we can pivot to remote delivery of instruction … again we keep in mind that some point in time, as information becomes known to us, that decision will either be supported fully or we may need to pivot,” Bobbitt said during a virtual meeting with trustees.
Bobbitt added there are more “unknowns” than “knowns” about what the reality will be in a few months.
Arkansas State University, Henderson State University and NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) have each said they plan to open in the fall for in-person classes. Arkansas Tech University is reportedly “optimistically planning” for the reopening campuses in September. Charles Pollard, president of John Brown University, has said that college is “planning diligently for the return of students in the fall.”
Colleges across the state said summer school instruction will still be offered online, following the closure of schools to in-person instruction more than seven weeks ago as coronavirus cases in Arkansas began to rise.
NWACC President Dr. Evelyn Jorgenson said the school’s pandemic team is diligently planning to phase employees back this summer and allow students on campus in the fall. The two-year college, which does not have on-campus housing for students, plans to offer students the option to choose from classes that include in-person instruction, a hybrid of in-person and online instruction, as well as online-only instruction.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the fall semester will be able to launch with the normal face-to-face campus experience, but of course we will prioritize the health and well-being of our community when moving our plans forward,” Jorgenson said.
Educators agree campus life will look different for students and employees this fall. Social distancing will be observed, hand washing and wearing a mask will be encouraged and hand sanitizer will be easily available. All colleges and universities will have to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local health officials before, during and after reopening.
Each college said it is creating contingency plans to be able to quickly adjust should COVID-19 cases rebound in the fall.