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'Some certainty in this time of uncertainty'
In the early days of Summer, when Lake Michigan College administrators, faculty, and staff turned their attention to preparations for the Fall 2020 semester, the uncertainty was palpable.
Like colleges and universities throughout the United States, LMC adjusted quickly in the middle of its Spring semester to close its campuses and move classes remotely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, with campuses still closed, LMC delayed the Summer session before opting to offer the semester entirely online.
But what about Fall? That was the question. Would students be returning to in-person classes? When would they know? Some colleges and universities optimistically planned for a return to normalcy. Others offered a wait-and-see stance. LMC administrators, in contrast, were far more pragmatic.
"We wanted to provide some certainty in this time of uncertainty," LMC President Dr. Trevor A. Kubatzke said. "We wanted students to know exactly what our plan was for coming back to school."
In July, LMC unveiled its plan for the Fall 2020 semester, which begins Tuesday, Sept. 8. After working with state and local officials on limiting the spread of COVID-19, LMC determined that Fall classes that can be taught remotely would be offered remotely in one of several delivery options. Courses that require hands-on learning that cannot be delivered remotely will have limited in-person instruction, in small groups, and follow other safety protocols.
LMC's five-course delivery options for Fall 2020 are Flexible Learning Environment (FLE); Online; Remote; Hybrid/Remote; and Hybrid/Face-to-Face.
FLE courses offer the most flexibility. Students may choose to interact with their instructor and classmates by a webcam during regularly scheduled class sessions or watch recorded class sessions online at a time that is convenient for them.
Online classes are delivered entirely online without scheduled class sessions. Remote courses, in contrast, are held remotely by a webcam on scheduled days and times.
Remote courses are held remotely by a webcam on scheduled days and times.
Hybrid/Remote classes offer a significant portion of instruction delivered online with some remote class sessions by webcam required on scheduled days and times.
Hybrid/Face-to-Face features a substantial amount of instruction online with some on-campus, face-to-face class sessions needed for hands-on learning that cannot be completed otherwise. Those programs are Advanced Manufacturing, Culinary, Criminal Justice, Health Sciences, Natural Sciences, Networking, Visual and Performing Arts, and Wine and Viticulture Technology.
Students who may not be ready for the Sept. 8 start, or guest students whose four-year plans suddenly have been upended, also can enroll in a 7-week accelerated session that begins Oct. 28.
"There are students who still don't know if their four-year school is opening or closing or going remote,” Kubatzke said. “I think a lot of students held back and waited. In the past couple of weeks, we have started to see some uptick in our enrollment numbers. I think students don't want to wait anymore. They want to get back to class, and we have a plan in place to do that."
LMC also is addressing the financial burden caused by COVID-19 by offering a 10 percent discount for all degree-seeking students for the Fall semester. The discount is automatically adjusted to each student's fall tuition bill with reimbursements processed to those who already paid.
"Families are struggling right now with unemployment and other financial challenges due to COVID-19," Kubatzke said. "We felt it was important to do whatever we could to make sure that our community has access to a college education. Students shouldn't have to put their futures on hold because of this pandemic."
LMC’s campuses are open for in-person services to current and prospective students with several health and safety precautions in place. LMC has installed plexiglass in several areas where students and visitors interact with staff. There are hand sanitizing stations throughout campus, signage to serve as social distancing reminders or designate traffic flow, and rigorous cleaning protocols in effect from LMC's facilities staff. Everyone on campus must practice social distancing by keeping at least 6 feet of space between each other. There is a daily symptom checker at each campus's front entrance, and masks are required for everyone entering any building.
"We have increased our cleaning with special attention to frequently touched surfaces, like door hardware, railings, and worksurfaces," said Sara VanderVeen, LMC’s Executive Director, Facilities Management. "We have increased outside air ventilation rates and circulation, where possible, and have new procedures in place to manage situations that may arise, like someone becoming sick on campus."
All seven intercollegiate athletic teams resume with practices only during the Fall semester, following NJCAA guidelines and intensive safety protocols. All athletes are tested for COVID-19 before they can participate. Students moving into Beckwith Hall, LMC's residence hall on the Benton Harbor campus, also are tested for COVID-19 before they can move in, and LMC is limiting occupancy to 65 percent of capacity.
"We are all eager for the Fall 2020 semester," Kubatzke said. "Our staff, faculty and administration have all worked tirelessly to offer our students the best possible education in the safest way possible. I am proud of the work we have done to get to this point and of the work we will continue to do because the health and safety of our students, employees, and community remain our top priority."