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Northern Michigan University: Campus open in fall despite coronavirus fears

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

Northern Michigan University students will return to campus and in-person classes in September, with the Marquette campus becoming the first state public university to announce a plan for a traditional semester despite the coronavirus pandemic.

NMU’s board of trustees approved a plan for students to return to campus late Thursday. The plan, for a university with enrollment of about 7,700, had been presented to the board by Northern Michigan President Fritz Erickson.

“We will take all reasonable measures necessary to make classes, housing, dining, student events and all university activities safe,” Erickson said in a statement released after the board approved the plan

“We do not take this decision lightly. We feel confident that every precaution will be taken to protect our entire campus community, while being able to provide a robust learning and living experience for students. We want to deliver the unique, personalized Northern experience that draws students here and that they have come to expect.”

Whether the announcement previews plans at other Michigan colleges and universities is uncertain — NMU is located in the Upper Peninsula, which has so far largely escaped the potentially deadly coronavirus that has killed more than 3,700 state residents in less than two months. Also unknown is whether a significant volume of students will fear returning to campus when many public health experts say they fear a resurgence of the new coronavirus later this year. 

Related: Oakland University unveils fall plan: masks, tests, some campus classes

Last week, officials at Oakland University, located in hard-hit Oakland County, announced the school would take a hybrid approach to classes this fall, with many classes online and in-person classes moved to large venues allowing students to socially distance from each other.

One community college, Jackson College, plans to go fully online for the fall semester, and Lansing Community College will be largely online.

“We had about 80 (coronavirus) cases among 300,000 people in U.P.,” NMU Board Chair Steve Mitchell told Bridge Friday. “It would be a more difficult decision if we were (located) elsewhere.”

The state overall has more than 41,000 confirmed cases. “That’s one of the advantages of Northern — we’re rural and we’re safe,” Mitchell said.

NMU’s enrollment has dipped about 18 percent in the past decade, from 9,428 in 2009 to 7,732 in the fall of 2019.

“The board is in strong agreement with the plan to resume face-to-face instruction this fall,” Mitchell said in a statement Thursday. “We know everyone wants to be back on campus in the fall and … unless some external force stops us, we will have face-to-face instruction.”

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