The UW System announced Sunday that all campuses would have some degree of in-person instruction this fall.
Leaders on each campus will make their own decisions on what exactly the fall semester will look like. But the system administration has released guidelines for how to reopen in the safest way possible.
“We know the on-campus experience is what our students want," UW System President Ray Cross said in a statement. "At the same time, we must all recognize that our universities will be different this fall than what we’re used to and there will be campus-based decisions on how to best address particular issues. But students will be back on campus this fall.”
Universities shut down dorms and shifted classes online in March because of the coronavirus, and most have stayed online this summer.
The UW reopening guidelines include keeping large-enrollment classes of 50 or more online, and for face-to-face classes, using a hybrid model that is easy to shift online in case of an outbreak. To spread students out, campuses could hold more evening and weekend classes.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has not announced its plans yet. But in an interview last month, Chancellor Mark Mone said a combination of in-person and online was likely.
"My hunch is we’ll have an awful lot online and we’re gonna try to as safely as possible bring people back for some face-to-face activities," Mone said.
UW administrators are urging campuses to set aside at least 5% of residence hall rooms for potential quarantine or isolation facilities if students get sick.
In a call with reporters, UW System Vice President for Administration Rob Cramer said campuses are also considering changing their calendars. Because some coronavirus models predict a surge in cases this winter, schools may want to start the semester earlier and end in-person classes after Thanksgiving.
"I think people are looking at a number of scenarios including moving to online instruction [after Thanksgiving] but continuing to have their residence halls open, but have less interaction in the classrooms because of the question mark of is there a second wave or not?" Cramer said.
When it comes to coronavirus testing and contact tracing, UW leaders are not issuing specific guidelines yet. Cramer said health experts’ advice in those areas is "evolving."
"Each of our campuses is talking to public health officials locally about testing and tracing options," Cramer said.
The safety measures campuses will implement in the fall are likely to deepen the financial challenges the pandemic is causing. UWM predicts a deficit between $50 million and $100 million at the end of the fiscal year that begins July 1.
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