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How St. Louis-Area College Campuses Will Look Different This Fall, Opening Amid A Pandemic

Students cross Grand Boulevard on St. Louis University's campus Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.
File Photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis University will begin its fall semester a week early this year in an aim to end the school year before Thanksgiving break. It will also screen all students and faculty for the coronavirus upon returning to campus.

Universities in the St. Louis region are releasing plans to return students back to campus this fall, but they come with a warning.

School administrators say they are prepared to shift instruction online and send students home like they did this spring if coronavirus cases again spike during the fall semester. Most plan to begin the school year with in-person learning while implementing social distancing measures on campus. 

For most students, life on campus will look vastly different this fall. There will be no large lecture halls filled with fresh-faced undergraduates nor packed homecoming celebrations. Instead, lecture halls will be mostly empty and student events will get smaller. At Washington University, Parents and Family Weekend is canceled.

Although college life will change, students have expressed a desire to return to campus and administrators have echoed the sentiment, St. Louis University officials said.

SLU’s President Fred Pestello said online learning cannot replace the resources and community a college campus provides.

“There’s just a tremendous difference in terms of being together and building relationships,” Pestello said. “Being able to talk, debate, explore face to face both inside the classroom and outside the classroom.”

Many schools are trying to find a balance between pre-pandemic campus life and fully remote learning. Harris-Stowe State University, Lindenwood University, University of Missouri-St. Louis and Washington University will blend both online and in-person instruction. Schools are still deciding what classes will look like and it varies from university to university.

In general, the goal is reducing class sizes. Lindenwood officials say the school is considering dividing classes to have students alternate between in-person and remote learning. Wash U plans to have professors pre-record lectures for large classes. University of Missouri-St. Louis has added IT infrastructure to allow international students that cannot return to campus or immunocompromised faculty and students to work remotely, a university spokesperson said.

What returning to campus could look like

Leaders at many St. Louis-area universities said they are considering whether to mandate quarantining students returning to campus from other countries or states.

SLU will check all students and faculty for COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival to campus, and Pestello said testing will be available. Harris-Stowe and Lindenwood are setting aside space in campus dorms to quarantine students who might show symptoms through the semester. 

Many universities in the region are also changing their academic calendar.

SLU and Wash U are cutting their normal fall breaks to prevent students from traveling, something the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says puts people at higher risk for contracting and spreading the virus. 

While Wash U has opted to stagger the opening of different schools and departments on campus. SLU will begin its fall semester a week early in an aim to end by Thanksgiving break. Lindenwood and UMSL have not changed academic calendars for now, according to university officials. Other campuses in the University of Missouri System, which includes those in Rolla, Columbia and Kansas City, are still exploring options, a spokesperson said.

In comparison to Missouri schools, SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook said Illinois universities must follow stricter statewide reopening guidelines. Illinois schools need to wait until the state reaches higher testing capacity and sees COVID-19 cases decreasing, among other requirements, to allow students back on campus. But Pembrook said he expects in-person classes to resume in time for the fall semester.

“Nobody has a crystal ball, but people are hopeful; we’re going through exercises to prepare different kinds of classes — online, remote instruction and hybrids,” Pembrook said.

Officials from many schools in the region say they expect to release detailed guidelines for reopening in July, as they work with local health departments.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

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Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.