Michigan State University is encouraging students to stay home this fall rather than return to campus.
The announcement, made in a letter to parents and students, is an about-face from late May, when MSU President Samuel Stanley said the school planned for the school’s 50,000 students to return to East Lansing when classes begin Sept. 2.
While the campus will be open this fall, the courses of most students will be completely online.
- With deadline looming, MSU students debate returning to campus amid COVID
- What we know about Michigan college plans in fall amid coronavirus
- For some Michigan college students, coronavirus is a risk worth taking
- Students return to University of Michigan in fall. Football? Ask us later.
“If you can live safely and study successfully at home, we encourage you to consider that option for the fall semester,” Stanley wrote Monday.
“The vast majority of first-year students this fall will have course schedules that are completely online,” Stanley wrote. “Living away from campus may be the best choice for you and your family, particularly if you have family members at higher health risk.”
MSU is waiving a requirement that freshmen live in on-campus housing, and is allowing students to withdraw from on-campus housing contracts through Wednesday, according to the letter.
The letter, sent by email to students and families, is the strongest indication yet that colleges are wavering on earlier promises to bring students back to campuses this fall.
Michigan’s colleges and universities closed their buildings and switched to remote learning in mid-March, as the coronavirus began to spread across the state. By the time MSU announced on May 27 that it was reopening campus in the fall, the number of cases of the potentially deadly virus was plummeting and it appeared the state was on the road to recovery.
But the seven-day average of new daily cases, below 200 in early June, has increased to more than 700. Young revelers at a bar near the MSU campus in June led to an outbreak that eventually resulted in more than 170 COVID-19 cases – an incident that struck fear in college and community leaders about what could happen when students returned to campus in the fall.
On the same day MSU sent a letter encouraging students to stay home, the University of Michigan sent a letter to students telling them to spend 14 days in “enhanced social distancing” before coming to campus, including taking their temperatures twice daily.
MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant said the university wasn’t discouraging students from living on campus, but was “encouraging them to make the best decision for themselves and their families. If that means living at home, we will support that.”
MSU faculty reached by Bridge Monday weren’t surprised by the letter.
“We’ve been asked to choose modalities (online, hybrid, face-to-face) for our fall classes, but I have to think they will all be online, if not by the first day of school, then shortly thereafter,” said Mitchell Robinson, associate professor of music education.
In his letter to students, Stanley said, “You should make your choice based on what is the safest and best place for you to live and learn.
“In normal circumstances, living on campus is part of a very rich educational experience,” Stanley wrote. “We know that meeting people from other places and backgrounds is a fundamental and important part of college life, but these are not normal circumstances. In fact, many of the usual campus experiences are being completely rethought and will be offered in remote-access formats.”
Students will be required to wear face masks on campus, and gatherings in buildings will be limited to 10 people. Quarantines of students will be likely, according to the letter.
“The choice to live on campus should be based on safety and success,” Stanley wrote students.