FARGO — Universities and colleges in the Fargo-Moorhead area are preparing to host more classes in-person in the fall as a vaccine for the coronavirus becomes more widely available.
Minnesota State University Moorhead, Concordia College, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, and North Dakota State University leaders said they plan to offer more classes on campus, bringing excitement that more students will be allowed on campus, the schools said.
“We just really want to say we are open,” MSUM Vice President of Academic Affairs Arrick Jackson said, adding his school wants to deliver education as safely as possible.
The schools had to shift to mostly virtual learning a year ago as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the country. Some temporarily stopped in-person classes altogether but later allowed some on-campus education. More technical classes had to be offered in-person, the leaders said.
MSUM hopes to allow 52% of its classes to be held in-person by the fall, an increase from about 32% now, Jackson said. M State has a higher goal of 75% across its four campuses, including in Moorhead, said John Maduko, college vice president of academic and student affairs.
“Many of our faculty are excited and champing at the bit to return to face-to-face instruction,” Maduko said. “The consensus is that people just miss being on campus, miss interacting with students, miss interacting with each other, miss interacting with the public. We look forward to reaching that 75% goal.”
Concordia and NDSU didn’t have estimates this week on how full those classes will be. Classes at NDSU are under capacity since students are doing a hybrid version of education, University Provost Margaret Fitzgerald said. It will continue to follow North Dakota Health Department guidelines, she said.
Concordia Dean Susan Larson said her school is working closely with the Minnesota Health Department to determine room capacities, as have MSUM and M State.
However, Larson said she was optimistic about allowing more students on campus after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced Friday a loosening of restrictions.
“Our actions will be in step with their guidelines,” she said of the Minnesota Health Department. “We look forward to meeting with them in the coming weeks about how that might impact the fall.”
Schools are aware some professors and students may not feel comfortable or be able to be among others, at least until they are vaccinated. All schools said they would continue to offer some online options.
The pandemic has been disruptive for students and faculty, Maduko said. He noted the loss of life and the other struggles that came with the virus.
Moving to a hybrid educational system forced professors to learn how to operate online classes in a short period of time, as well as multitask in delivering education in different ways, Fitzgerald said. It has not been an easy transition, though staff, faculty and students have been very adaptive, she said.
On the bright side, NDSU is better equipped to offer degrees through various avenues, Fitzgerald said. Getting technology to do that because of the pandemic has opened up opportunities for people who can’t make it to the university’s campus for classes, like rural residents.
“That would not have happened nearly as rapidly if it weren’t for COVID,” she said.
Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is encouraging, but M State is being strategic in opening up more to in-person education safely, Maduko said.
“We’re being cautious,” he said. “We’re being mindful. We’re being pragmatic in our approach.”
Jackson described the effort to allow more students in the classroom a collaboration among MSUM staff. Staff continue to monitor safety guidelines when deciding which activities to allow, but the school hopes to have more activities for students to engage in, Jackson said.
Learning together in-person is a distinctive characteristic of Concordia, Larson said. Fitzgerald said something similar about her university.
“NDSU is a predominantly residential campus, and people come here to have that campus experience,” she said. “Zoom is nice, but it’s not quite the same.”
Like the other campuses in the F-M area, there is a lot of hope, joy and excitement knowing the end of the pandemic is near, Fitzgerald said.
The pandemic is over yet, Jackson said, adding that MSUM is focused on offering students success and safety.
“We believe that coming this fall, we will be able to deliver both,” he said.