Like many other college campuses across the country, the University of Minnesota-Crookston is doing all it can to safely welcome students back to campus as fall classes draw near. The first day of class at UMC is Tuesday, August 25. Most students will start returning in stages Thursday through Sunday. UMC Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs John Hoffman says the staggered return is to help prevent large groups of students from moving in at one time.

After having to shut down the campus in March, Hoffman said the UMC staff is thrilled to have students coming back to campus for the first time in five months.

“It’s very exciting,” Hoffman said. “When you work at a university, the students are the lifeblood, and it’s great to have them coming back.”

Hoffman estimates about 650 students are enrolled for on-campus instruction, with 400 of those living on campus in the fall. There’s an additional 1075 students enrolled for online learning. UMC’s COVID-19 safety plan has four key components. The first is self-screening. Any student or faculty member feeling sick or feeling possible COVID-19 symptoms are asked to stay home. The other components are social distancing, wearing face masks at all times while indoors and good hygiene practices like frequent hand washing. 

“If we can observe those four pieces, we can keep our campus open,” Hoffman said.

In the event a UMC student tests positive for COVID-19, Hoffman said about five percent of the campuses’ housing capacity has been reserved for individuals to quarantine safely, which equates to about 35 students, but that number could be nearly doubled if needed. Faculty who test positive would isolate at home.

About 80 percent of UMC’s classes that were scheduled to be taught in person will have some kind of face-to-face component to them, while the other 20 percent will be taught online. UMC is also utilizing some of its bigger gathering spaces to ensure safe in-person learning.

“Our Kiehle Auditorium and our Sahlstrom Conference Center are going to be utilized as classrooms so that we can maintain the physical distancing in the classroom while building the social interactions and the instructional work that we pride ourselves on,” said Hoffman.

Other campuses, however, have not had an easy time welcoming students back. Bigger universities like Notre Dame, North Carolina, Kentucky and Iowa State have reported over 100 positive COVID-19 cases among students. Most of these cases have been linked to off-campus gatherings. Hoffman believes that if UMC students and the Crookston community interact in safe and responsible ways, the campus can stay open.

“Let me be upfront – what we’re trying to do is hard,” Hoffman said. “I believe we have a great plan in place. If we adhere to the plan, we should be fine. We’re watching the other campuses and learning from them. In most of these other campuses, the transmission is not happening on campus. It’s when students leave campus and go to restaurants, bars, house parties, etc. Now, more than ever, the community and the University, we’re in this together. We all need to step up our efforts to maintain the physical distance, wear our face coverings and welcome students back to the community in a way that keeps everybody safe.”