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Grand Valley State to return students to campus in fall during coronavirus

Update: What we know about Michigan college plans in fall amid coronavirus

Students will return to the campus of Grand Valley State University for the fall semester, Grand Valley President Philomena Mantella told incoming freshmen in a virtual town hall Friday.

The 24,000 students at the Allendale public university can expect to see some tweaks to campus life to allow social distancing due to continuing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, Mantella said, but the school will operate fairly similarly to a traditional semester.

All of Michigan’s public universities, private colleges and community colleges closed in-person classes in March to try to stem the spread of the potentially deadly virus. Most campuses have yet to decide whether students will return in September, at a time before a COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be developed.

College officials across the state are wrestling with how to protect student and staff health while also providing quality education. Officials at several schools told Bridge last week they feared enrollment would drop if campuses were closed in the fall and students were asked to take courses online.

Schools that have announced fall plans have run the spectrum from going fully online (Jackson College), to traditional classes (Northern Michigan University), to hybrids of some online, some in-person classes (Oakland University and Lansing Community College).

Grand Valley has some characteristics that make reopening its campus less risky than at some other public universities, Grand Valley spokesperson Matt McLogan told Bridge Saturday. 

The vast majority of Grand Valley’s classes are small — the average is 26 students — which makes social distancing easier, McLogan said. Just 6,000 of the 24,000 students live in campus housing, and almost all of that housing is apartments or suites that are less densely populated than traditional college dorms. And 80 percent of student housing has private bathrooms.

McLogan said the campus will follow state recommendations about whether students and staff should wear facemasks.

“President Mantella, in her town hall yesterday, acknowledged that some students may have personal or health concerns and want/need to be served with something other than in-seat learning,” McLogan said. “We will accommodate those students with remote learning options they can access from their permanent residences.”

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