Saturday’s festivities got off to a rainy start as roughly 500 Grove City College students received diplomas at the college’s 139th commencement ceremony.

More colleges are starting to roll out their strategies for offering classes in the fall while trying to protect students, faculty and staff from exposure to coronavirus.

“I think colleges and universities are facing the same question that public schools, primary and secondary, are facing, what can they do to make sure their educators are safe, their teachers are safe, their students are safe,” Gov. Tom Wolf said during a video press conference last week. “In my conversations with educators, all of them, as they look to the fall, are looking to create a very different educational experience than preceded this pandemic.”

Earlier in May, the University of California system announced that its campuses will not reopen in the fall and that students will study remotely.

Penn State has announced that the university’s plan for the fall will be announced June 15. The University of Pittsburgh has announced that its plans for the fall be unveiled by early July.

A handful of private colleges have already announced plans to resume classes on campus in the fall, including Lycoming College in Williamsport, Juniata College in Huntingdon, Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Immaculate University in Waynesburg and Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Grove City College in Grove City.

Susquehanna announced Thursday that students will return to campus a week earlier than originally planned with the intention of having students finish the fall semester after Thanksgiving by studying remotely. University officials say the move will eliminate the need for students to return to campus after traveling home for the Thanksgiving break.

In a video posted Thursday on the university website, Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Michael Driscoll said that a survey of IUP students made it clear that students want to be able to return to campus in the fall.

“We heard you, you want to be back on campus in person, in classes,” Driscoll said. “That’s what we’re planning for this fall.”

A national survey found that most college students feel the same as the IUP students. The study conducted by Carnegie Dartlet, a higher education marketing firm, found that 95 percent of students said they will go to their intended college if there are in-person classes in the fall. But one-third of the students surveyed said they would consider taking a gap year if the college adopted a model using online classes.

At IUP, Driscoll said that one of the innovations the university is planning to employ is to use a hybrid in-person/remote-learning approach for classes. Students in a class will be divided into teams, and those teams will take turns attending in-person class. When students’ teams aren’t scheduled to be in class, they will participate remotely, he said. In addition, IUP is planning to provide all students with private bedrooms and bathrooms in residence halls will be shared by no more than two students.

The other 13 colleges in the State System of Higher Education will be rolling out their strategies for the fall in the coming weeks.

Wolf said he’s met with the leadership of the PASSHE system but he declined to say whether he thought there should be a system-wide decision about whether to reopen the universities.

“That’s a question you should ask the State System of Higher Education,” he said.

David Pidgeon, a PASSHE spokesman, said that university officials in the system are “exchanging ideas” while examining options for their individual campuses.

“Central to the decision is how can quality academic programming be delivered in a way that protects the health and safety of everyone who makes up the campus community,” Pidgeon said.

CNHI PA State Reporter

CNHI State Reporter John Finnerty covers the Pennsylvania Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com.

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