Colleges plan return to in-person everything this fall 

  • Students walk through campus in between classes at New England College in Henniker on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. The bridge connecting campus to downtown Henniker is seen in the background. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 3/29/2021 4:50:18 PM

New England College announced Monday that it is planning for a full return to in-person classes and open facilities in the fall, making it the latest of several New Hampshire colleges and universities looking ahead to reopening.

The college, which has campuses in Henniker and Manchester, held classes remotely in the spring of 2020, switching to a mix of in-person, hybrid and remote options last fall.

“We have been wonderfully successful in creating safe teaching and learning environments in Henniker and Manchester with very few COVID cases, nearly all of which were asymptomatic,” New England College President Michele Perkins said in a statement Monday. “As we return to a nearly normal residential program, we know we still have a lot of work to do. Though we remain hopeful that the scourge of COVID will soon be behind us, we remain vigilant in this very volatile environment.”

Other New Hampshire institutions have made similar decisions this month to reopen in-person in the fall, including the University of New Hampshire, Franklin Pierce University, Dartmouth College, Plymouth State University, Southern New Hampshire University, Rivier University, Saint Anselm College and Keene State College.

In announcing their fall plans, several schools cited an anticipated speedy timeline for New Hampshire’s vaccine rollout as a reason for reopening.

“With regard to prevalence and severity of COVID-19, we expect to be in a better place by the end of this summer with the vaccine rollout underway,” Keene State President Melinda Treadwell said on March 17, when the college made its announcement. “Our students have told us loud and clear that they want to be together on campus in our community … Safety guided by science will remain a priority in the fall, and we will continue to carefully monitor the pandemic to make decisions accordingly.”

However, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced during a press conference March 25 that New Hampshire’s vaccination distribution is for permanent Granite State residents only, not out-of-state college students.

Some schools emphasized the success of their COVID-19 safety protocols for in-person learning this year, saying that if they did it once, they can do it again.

“Our students want to be here, and proved that by their adaptability in abiding by strict health and safety guidelines over the last year that made our in-person living and learning possible through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Franklin Pierce University President Kim Mooney said Thursday. “Every one of our students, faculty and staff made adjustments to ensure our continued operations and continuity of learning, and it’s exciting to be looking ahead to the fall with in-person events and activities returning, safely and responsibly.”

Some schools are taking a more cautious route, planning for a hybrid approach. Antioch University New England plans to expand in-person learning, though it will differ by program. In a statement Friday, the University said fall instruction will likely be a hybrid of in-person learning and remote participation or having smaller cohorts of students on campus periodically, who are remote at other times.

New Hampshire community colleges, including NHTI, White Mountains, River Valley, Lakes Region and Manchester Community Colleges, will offer in-person, remote and hybrid instruction in the fall.

Several presidents said the COVID safety protocols that have been employed on campus this year will likely still be in place in the fall. Rivier University President Sr. Paula Marie Buley said masking, some social distancing and increased hygiene efforts will still be required at the university for a number of months.

“We do not anticipate that COVID-19 will be eliminated by the fall,” UNH president James Dean and Provost Wayne Jones said in a joint letter March 18 announcing fall reopening. “While widespread vaccination is expected by early summer, some precautions will likely remain in effect including testing and any decreased density or face coverings as recommended by CDC and state public health officials. If you are eligible to get vaccinated, please do so.”

Colleges and universities are also taking different routes when it comes to spring graduation ceremonies. Saint Anselm is proceeding with an in-person, outdoor commencement with an audience – two guests per student – while SNHU is holding this year’s commencement virtually.

Several schools, including Keene State, Franklin Pierce and Colby-Sawyer College are planning for commencement ceremonies that have the students in person but the audience remote, offering a livestream for virtual viewing.

Many of the college administrators have said students remain eager to be on campus in the fall, especially after year that’s been difficult for students statewide.

“We certainly know this past year has tested our resiliency of our community and we are so proud of how they have handled this incredibly challenging time,” said Paul Pronovost, chief communications officer for Saint Anselm College. “It has been a test of character and we are emerging stronger and better than ever. Being able to look ahead to commencement and the fall feels like normalcy is almost here.”

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