UPDATED: Fall semester on the minds of Virginia’s colleges and universities
Some plan to resume in-person classes, but most universities are still debating what the new school year will look like
UPDATED MAY 21
Colleges and universities in Virginia are discussing options for their fall semesters, which will probably be like nothing the state has seen before due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of May 15, Old Dominion University, Radford University, Hampden-Sydney College, Sweet Briar College, Lynchburg University, Liberty University, Mary Baldwin University, Roanoke College, Virginia Wesleyan University and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise have announced plans to reopen in August. Other Virginia higher education institutions — public or private — have yet to declare firm plans for the coming fall semester. Some are operating under the assumption that they will hold in-person classes but add that they are seeking advice from state officials, including the Virginia Department of Health, and their own communities.
Several have formed task forces and committees to examine their options — including continuing virtual courses or holding only some classes in person — as well as to discuss how to handle athletics, tuition, campus housing and other matters. Others are holding discussions behind the scenes, with officials and board members expected to make decisions in May or June.
Virginia Business contacted state colleges and universities, as well as many of Virginia’s private four-year institutions, for this story. We will update as we receive further information.
New: The private university in Danville says it is examining different options, with an announcement later. “Averett University is making plans to re-open this fall for in-person classes with the social distancing and other precautions necessary to ensure the health and safety of the members of our community. We are working diligently on a range of scenarios, all of which will be guided by public health guidelines.”
Christopher Newport University
New: President Paul Trible, in an update May 14, wrote, “We’re committed to a fall semester on campus where we’ll be back all together again in our classrooms and in our offices. We must work together to make that happen. And when we return, we’ll need to do many things differently in order to keep everyone safe and healthy.” He announced in April that there will be no increase in tuition and fees, room and board for the 2020-21 academic year.
Eastern Mennonite University
EMU plans to open in the fall, with this caveat: “We will be ready to adopt any one of several learning environments — a decision dependent on the status of COVID-19 in the region and recommendations of health and educational authorities.”
Eastern Virginia Medical School
New: EVMS is preparing to reopen in stages, according to a May 15 update:
- Stage 1 – Resuming critical research activities and clinical operations by May 15;
- Stage 2 – Resuming remaining research activities, clinical rotations in the medical and health professions education programs, and some on-site administrative operations by June 15;
- Stage 3 – Delivering limited on-site instructional activities by Aug. 5.
Emory & Henry University
New: According to a May 10 report, the private college in Bluefield aims to teach classes in person this fall but may continue with online classes if warranted.
George Mason University
New: GMU’s Board of Visitors voted May 20 to adopt a $1.18 billion budget that includes a slight increase in tuition this fall, although no increase in fees. In-state and out-of-state students will pay $450 more. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “the budget includes an amendment that stipulates that should more state or federal funding become available, the university should prioritize reducing tuition.”
In a May 6 update from interim President Anne Holton, “Our intention is to bring students back to campus and resume face-to-face instruction in the fall, with appropriate guidance of public health officials and with modifications as needed to ensure the safety of our entire community.”
The South’s oldest privately chartered college, Hampden-Sydney plans to resume in-person classes in the fall. “I write to inform you that we will convene as a community and hold classes here at Hampden-Sydney this fall as we have for the past 245 years,” Hampden-Sydney President Larry Stimpert wrote in a May 1 letter to students at the men’s liberal arts college. “The educational experience we provide is based on in-person instruction in small classes and close mentoring, coaching, and advising. And much of your education, and certainly much of the character development we prize at Hampden-Sydney, occurs outside of our classes as you govern yourselves and interact with professors, staff members, and each other in so many meaningful ways. To realize the full potential of the educational experience we offer you, we must be together as a community.”
Hampton has not announced its plans for the fall but provides updates here.
New: The private women’s university reports in a May 4 update: “I assure you we remain committed to supporting the educational goals of our students and faculty as well as the health and safety of our community. Informed by these priorities, this fall we intend to open on schedule as a residential campus and resume high-quality, in-person instruction,” writes interim President Nancy Oliver Gray. There will be more details after the stay-at-home order is expected to end June 10.
James Madison University
New: JMU’s Board of Visitors voted May 15 to freeze in-state and out-of-state tuition for undergraduate and graduate-level students. Student fees will increase by $62 a semester. Also, the university has received $6 million in emergency student aid funding from the federal CARES Act, plus $560,000 in donations to support students.
“Based on what we know today, JMU is planning to resume its on-campus, residential operations in the fall of 2020,” spokesperson Mary-Hope G. Vass said April 24, which was reaffirmed in the May 15 statement.
Planning efforts — including a 12-person task force — are underway to address questions about what residential life, classes and dining arrangements would look like if social distancing continues, she added. JMU plans to continue evaluating new information and contingencies, as well as communicating with university colleagues across the state and the nation, Vass added.
New: According to a May 8 update, “the administration is focusing on plans to reopen fully with residential classes in the fall and is busy making special plans to honor the Class of 2020 at commencement, postponed to Sept. 11-12. Classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 24.”
Although the university’s classes were offered online in late March, President Jerry Falwell Jr. stoked controversy by inviting students back to campus after spring break, despite most U.S. colleges closing campuses in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Liberty later moved all residential classes back online after Gov. Ralph Northam ordered all Virginia colleges and universities to move classes online as part of his March 30 stay-at-home executive order.
New: Information about fall enrollment is available here.
President W. Taylor Reveley IV announced in April that a COVID-19 Planning Team will discuss how to “safely reopen for in-person learning in the upcoming fall semester,” according to a news release. The group includes Chief of Staff and Vice President Justin Pope, incoming Police Chief Doug Mooney, Moton Museum Executive Director Cameron Patterson, Associate Vice President of Wellness Matt McGregor and others. “They will research and report back to the President’s Council with creative and informed recommendations covering every aspect of campus life — from academics to housing and dining arrangements to health practices around testing and responding if cases emerge,” Reveley said in a statement.
President Kenneth Garren said on-campus classes will resume this fall. More details here.
Mary Baldwin University
Mary Baldwin plans to reopen on Aug. 31.
Marymount expects to be open this fall, says spokesperson Nick Munson, “provided that environmental conditions allow.” If needed, the university will offer online classes temporarily, or a “hybrid experience,” a mix of on-ground classes and online. “We are also planning to have the necessary arrangements to provide social distancing in our classrooms and residence halls.”
Norfolk State University
New: No decision has been made as of May 15 on fall classes, but according to a news report, NSU will make announcements following the end of Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order June 10.
Old Dominion University
New: Here is a letter outlining the university’s finances. According to Vice President for Administration & Finance Greg DuBois, ODU expects to see a loss of $40 million to $50 million in revenue this fall.
President John R. Broderick wrote in a letter April 29 that ODU “will open this fall,” while adding, “it is too early to discuss specifics.” The university is examining several potential scenarios, and Broderick says the “exact timing and nature of our opening remain to be determine.” A steering committee chaired by Kent Sandstrom, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, will work with ODU’s Public Health Policy Task Force and the Executive Policy Team to “prepare a blueprint” for opening. Broderick adds that by mid-June, the university will have specific plans for the fall.
Radford President Brian Hemphill announced on April 28 that the university plans to reopen in August and resume in-person classes on Aug. 24.
“Your stories of overcoming barriers and obstacles have inspired me and your fellow Highlanders. I look forward to welcoming each and every one of you back to campus with all locations completely open and all services fully available for the fall 2020 semester. We will overcome this unprecedented challenge together as one Radford family!” Hemphill wrote in a letter to Radford’s students, faculty and staff. He added that the university would continue to monitor guidance from public health experts for contingency planning and would be also looking at policies that would address factors such as social distancing, personal protective equipment and audience sizes for university events.
New: “All of us at Roanoke College are working to prepare for an on-time, on-campus start in August,” President Michael Maxey wrote. More details here.
Spokesperson Becky Layne said Friday, April 25, that SU’s Incident Command System is in charge of all facets of its COVID-19 response, but ad hoc sub-groups are discussing graduation, reopening, summer term and other issues weekly. The university expects to make a decision about fall classes around July 1. While SU hopes to hold classes in person, “the university is prepared to begin the fall semester with online classes and then transition to in-person instruction as soon as the ‘all clear’ is received,” noting that each student already had been provided a MacBook, iPad and Apple pencil before the pandemic. Shenandoah’s tuition increases have remained below 2% each year for the past seven years, Layne added, and the university expects “to continue with that commitment.”
Sweet Briar College
The private women’s college in Amherst County plans to resume in-person classes in the fall, but will be regularly testing its 330-plus students for COVID-19. Students will also be living in single accommodations instead of with roommates and will be required to maintain social distancing. “Safety is our top concern and as we resume in-person classes we want to make sure the health of our students comes first,” Sweet Briar College President Meredith Woo said in a statement.
University of Mary Washington
According to a letter from President Troy Paino released Friday, April 24, UMW plans to open Aug. 24 with the start of fall classes, noting, “We should also be prepared for the unknown.” Faculty, staff members and administrators are planning for contingencies, Paino added, and UMW’s provost, vice president of student affairs and executive director of human resources are all accepting ideas regarding academics, student life and the workplace. In early March, the Board of Visitors froze tuition for the fall semester.
University of Richmond
New: UR is examining three options, with a decision expected in June:
“We are intently focused on some version of a full residential semester, though it may not be ‘normal’ as we anticipate some level of COVID-19 threat will remain. We are preparing to mitigate that risk with a variety of tactics and tools and allow for modified start and end dates to fall semester as needed.
“The second scenario is full remote learning with no students in residence. We would make the choice of remote instruction only if we must. If we have to go with this option, we will prepare to do it well, with the personal attention, services, and support for social interaction that are hallmarks of a Richmond education.
“The third scenario involves a hybrid of reduced student residency mixed with remote learning, or a full year of academic credit offered over twelve months versus the typical nine. In both cases, a hybrid option might be desirable should circumstances require fewer students on campus than a full residential approach.”
University of Virginia
Provost Liz Magill is chairing U.Va.’s Fall 2020 Committee, which is developing recommendations for the fall semester, President Jim Ryan announced Thursday, April 23. According to the release, the committee members will accept input from students, faculty and staff members, and Ryan expects to make an update about the fall semester no later than mid-June. Committee members will first determine the deadline for deciding on the university’s fall plans, Ryan added. Also under discussion: a safe date for classes to start, academic contingencies and the financial impact on the university.
University of Virginia’s College at Wise
New: U.Va.-Wise plans to have in-person classes this fall. “To help us prepare for our opening, I have appointed a steering committee to develop the best plans for us to safely operate classrooms, perform daily work duties, and manage residential and campus facilities. The central focus remains maintaining a healthy and safe space for our community to live, learn, and work,” wrote Chancellor Donna Price Henry on May 12.
Virginia Commonwealth University
New: “Following public health planning and proper safety protocols, VCU President Michael Rao is committed to an in-person fall semester in which we are back together in our classrooms, laboratories, studios, and clinics on both campuses. The curve of the coronavirus in our society will determine our start date, and we are working on scenarios for an on-schedule or late start to the fall semester. The primary consideration for a start date is when it is safest to do so.” More info here.
Virginia’s Community Colleges
New: In-state tuition and fees will remain the same, $154 per credit hour, this fall, after a vote May 21 by the state board. Out-of-state tuition will remain at $354.10 a credit hour.
The College Anywhere VA portal, offering a full list of the system’s 10,000+ online classes, is now open.
Virginia’s Community Colleges, which oversees 23 colleges on 40 campuses, has a 16-member task force led by Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic and Workforce Programs Sharon Morrissey and Northern Virginia Community College President Anne M. Kress, appointed by Chancellor Glenn DuBois. Between now and May 15, the members are taking recommendations for the fall, and afterward, through August 15, they’ll take suggestions for longer range plans, spokesperson Jeff Kraus said Friday. In coming days, VCC will unveil an online portal that will allow the public to see a full list of classes offered online and how to sign up. Kraus notes that the community college system has about 10,000 virtual courses, which 150,000 people took last year.
As for classes that require in-person participation — like commercial driver’s license training, some health care courses, and workforce skills in the state’s FastForward program — the task force is discussing ways to offer these courses in a safe way, Kraus said. Fall tuition will be frozen, although the state board, which meets in May, is considering “nominal fee increases.” Some colleges have created internet hotspots in their parking lots for students without reliable internet access, and there are currently some discussions about colleges opening computer labs while maintaining appropriate distance between monitors, Kraus said.
Virginia Military Institute
New: “A planning committee comprised of cadet, faculty, and staff representatives from across Post has begun the arduous process of reviewing each of the Institute’s routines, policies, and procedures that provide our cadets with the unique VMI experience and will make recommendations on how those routines, policies, and procedures should be adapted in an environment where COVID-19 is likely present,” writes Col. James P. Inman.
In an April 9 letter, Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III wrote, “I am not confident that this pandemic will be in our rearview mirror by then or, if it is, that is not lurking around the corner waiting to threaten our Corps of Cadets and VMI family again. We are assessing all options for the possibility of a truncated fall semester whether it be truncated on the front end or the back.” He says that cadet leaders — including most corporals, sergeants and lieutenants — should return a week before the seven-day Cadre Week training period. “Cadre should tentatively plan on returning to post as early as 2 August,” Peay wrote. Athletes, including men’s and women’s soccer players, cross country runners and football players, have tentative report dates in August.
Virginia State University
VSU has not made an announcement yet about its plans this fall, but coronavirus-related updates are available here.
In a virtual town hall meeting Thursday, April 24, President Tim Sands said he expects “more clarity” about the fall semester after Virginia Tech’s board of visitors meets in May and June. “We really won’t know what fall looks like until early June, and we’re not alone in this,” Sands said. “Around early June, we should be able to make some fairly concrete announcements.”
In response to a question about tuition discounts if classes remain online, Sands said tuition rates likely won’t be different because of “certain fixed costs,” but fees may change. “In fact, online and remote are actually more expensive,” Sands added. He said he expects Tech’s board of visitors to discuss tuition and fees at an upcoming meeting.
“While we hope that the fall semester is as close as possible to a traditional experience for Hokies on all of our campuses, we must continue to protect the health of our community members during this pandemic,” spokesperson Tracy Vosburgh said in late April.
Virginia Union University
New: Plans for Fall 2020 are not yet announced, but VUU has a page with coronavirus updates.
Virginia Wesleyan University
The private university in Virginia Beach plans to resume in-person classes on Aug. 26. President Scott D. Miller said, “While it is our ‘Plan A’ to open in-person this August, contingency plans are in the works should they be needed due to extenuating circumstances. Again, given what we know at this point in time, we are moving full-steam ahead preparing for our Marlins to join us on campus this August.”
Washington & Lee University
New: The private university in Lexington reports, “Bringing students back to campus as soon as possible, without undue risk to our community or to public health, is our highest priority. We continue to plan and to hope for an August return. However, we cannot predict how the pandemic will unfold or how guidance from governmental and medical authorities will evolve. We must, therefore, consider and prepare for the possibility that students will not be able to return to campus as usual in August.” A task force has been formed, according to President Will Dudley.
William & Mary
New: The Plan Ahead Team named by President Katherine A. Rowe in April is expected to determine a plan for the next 18 months by mid-June. Details here.
In a letter released Friday, April 24, President Katherine A. Rowe wrote, “Next week I will launch a swift, cross-university planning process to build scenarios for in-person learning on campus in fall 2020 and beyond.” Five teams will focus on short-term solutions in “curricular flexibility, operational resilience, how we might de-densify campus spaces, how we might expand career pathways for graduating seniors and recent alumni. And finally, how W&M might take the lead in issuing broad calls to service at this critical time.”
The William & Mary Board of Visitors voted April 23 to freeze tuition and fees for all students, in-state and out of state, Rowe noted, and the university will use $1.97 million in federal stimulus funding for student relief. She estimated that William & Mary will lose between $13 million to $32 million in revenue through August 2020.
If you don’t see your college or university here, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia has links to institutions’ COVID-specific websites here.