NORTH CANTON, Ohio — As we get closer to summer, many Northeast Ohio colleges and universities are thinking about fall and the hopeful return of students to campuses.
Exactly what that will look like in the age of the coronavirus isn't clear, but Walsh University intends to offer a full residential life experience that will include both in-person and online course offerings.
University President Dr. Tim Collins said Walsh is also providing an incentive for 2020 freshmen and transfer students by allowing them to live on campus for free for the first eight-week term.
Walsh is switching from 15-week to eight-week terms to create more flexibility for students, potentially allowing them to graduate faster.
"We are reaching into our reserves to make this happen, but we think that there are families that find themselves today maybe not with the same financial footing that they thought they were in," Collins said. "We are taking a financial risk here by taking some of our reserves and investing it in our students."
Like many colleges and universities, both public and private, the pandemic has taken a financial toll on Walsh. Collins said there have been budget and pay cuts and spending freeze, but no layoffs.
"I think we are in a redefinitional period for higher education and so coming out of it, we're just going to look different, but the mission will continue," Collins said.
A task force made up of roughly 20 people, representing all aspects of the Walsh campus, is examining how to restart programs in the fall, including taking a close look at social distancing and safety measures in classrooms, residence halls and the dining hall.
"For instance, our dining facility we imagine doubling that space just so people can space out," Collins said.
Collins believes reopening campuses in a few months is critical for the future of higher education.
"If students decide in mass to not return to higher education, the effects will be devastating," he said. "The only way we can stop this is if we all go home and crawl underneath our covers and stay there forever. That's not possible."
The task force will be working with Aultman and Aultcare medical professionals who will offer guidance for health and safety protocols on campus.
Alex Mallette, a nursing student heading into his junior year, said switching to online classes was a challenge, but he learned through virtual simulations.
He's excited about the possibility of returning to campus for classes.
"I believe that we will get back in the fall. I know that the curve if flattening," Mallette said. "I'm excited to go back."