U of M announces 4-step plan to return students to campus

The University of Minnesota unveiled its four-step plan for returning students to campus. The announcement on Tuesday comes a week after the U of M Board of Regents approved a plan for a two-week delay in allowing students to move back on campus.

The plan, known as the "Maroon and Gold Sunrise Plan," calls for the Duluth campus to welcome students back to residence halls starting on Sept. 9, the Twin Cities campus to do so starting Sept. 15 and Rochester starting that process on Sept. 18.

It comes after the university’s Board of Regents last week approved delaying move-in for students this fall by two weeks. Tuesday, the university said classes will resume to their previously announced mode after the two-week pause is over.

“No one wanted to delay the on-campus experience that our new and returning students so desired, but we knew that taking a brief pause to learn from the challenges our peers around the country were experiencing would allow us to again adjust our approach to manage transmission, and ensure a higher level of safety for our students, faculty, and staff,” University President Joan Gabel said in a statement.

U of M Board of Regents approves proposal to delay fall move-in

The plan’s four steps include:

  1. Limited on-campus activities for students in campus housing, with students expected to live and learn almost exclusively within residence halls.
  2. Increased access to campus locations and the surrounding community for students in university housing, although with a 9 p.m. deadline for students to return to residence halls each night.
  3. Full access to university facilities and off-campus communities for students with a midnight deadline for students to return to their residence halls each night.
  4. Students continue to wear masks, social distance and avoid large gatherings without any time constraints or restrictions.

The university said it may extend steps or revert to previous steps at any time if warranted but the goal is for each of the first three steps to last approximately two weeks if all goes well. Decisions to extend or revert to previous steps will be based on public health and COVID-19 case information, the status and effectiveness of public health response operations and the status of general campus operations.

“The Maroon and Gold Sunrise Plan anchors in our ongoing commitment to prioritize the health and safety of all members of our University community,” Gabel said. “To that end, we continue to learn from others, we continue to trust the advice of our public health and medical professionals, and most importantly, we continue to adapt when necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

The university also said students on the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses have created public health awareness campus to remind all students that everyone has to do their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and have a successful semester.

“Preparing for college in general is stressful,” said Taylor Hasselman, a member of the class of 2024. “With COVID-19 and everything like that it’s just more uncertain and more stressful.”

Hasselman was looking forward to starting her psychology major in-person but the Californian will now stay in her home state for the fall semester.

“It was both a financial and a safety decision for myself and my family,” she said. “It was a tough decision to make and it was the right one […] With social media I can still make connections, it was just wiser to stay home.”

Hasselman told us they made the decision about a week ago, after learning about the university’s new fall plan.

“We were thinking about it and all of my classes are online, I’ll just be in the dorms and I won’t really be doing much because they’re putting so many limitations on activities and what we can do,” she said.

“I think it’s a good plan for the safety of the faculty and the students but as an out of state student, I would’ve liked to know further back because we were supposed to leave August 24th and that’s when the news came out."

Emily, a sophomore from Illinois, returned to the Twin Cities campus without too much concern about COVID.

“My whole family has been healthy this whole time and our whole age group is pretty safe and I think the precautions they are taking with wearing the masks and stuff are pretty much as good as it can be,” she said, without providing her last name.

She feels the curfews are a good idea.

“I think it will limit social interactions that go on during the later hours of the evening and limit those social interactions in small apartments,” said Emily. “But I also think most college students are waking up at 12 and they’re staying up later so I also think it’s kind of hard to enforce that because kids do stay up late and go out late.”

Nearly all of her classes are online this semester, except for one PE class.

“That has transitioned to online for at least the first two weeks and they really haven’t told us if after that they will continue to have it online,” she said. "It’s a PE class so it would be really difficult to be online in my apartment trying to do it.”

Sophomore Zach Jamari said it will be an adjustment to have all of his classes online.

“I’m kind of nervous about it because I’ve only ever had in-person classes except for the spring semester,” Jamari said.

There is no blanket format for the campus. A spokesperson for the University told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that faculty and instructors each determined whether to conduct their classes in-person, hybrid, online or remotely, in consultation with department and college leadership.

“I think it’s going to be a little difficult at the beginning adjusting to the plans,” Jamari said. “ I think the university is doing a good job with COVID and the precautions, like the curfew.”

Jamari took extra precautions this year, choosing to live in an on-campus apartment without a roommate, telling 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, “If I didn’t get it by myself I don’t think I would’ve come on campus.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked what it’s like in the residence halls.

“I have my own apartment and it’s kind of lonely at times because I have such a big family but other than that it’s like lots of hand sanitizers, social distancing precautions, just wiping stuff down and being clean,” Jamari said.

University President Gabel told state lawmakers they considered and analyzed outbreaks at other colleges when drafting these plans.

“I understand it all, coming back we’re trying to keep everyone safe and especially with some of the breakouts at the colleges that started earlier,” said Emily, a sophomore. “I’m glad they’re taking precautions so students can come back to campus."

Students at the Crookston and Morris campuses have already moved in. The university said those campuses will continue with their original plans while health officials continue to monitor the campuses and surrounding areas. If warranted, those campuses will implement restrictons at those campuses.

Minnesota college, university leaders discuss campus reopening and COVID-19 preparedness

Meanwhile, Gabel also testified before the Minnesota Senate Higher Education Committee on Tuesday afternoon. She told lawmakers the freshman class on the U of M campus is only down about 100 students. She said enrollment is up slightly on the Rochester campus, but down from 4% to 11% on campuses in Duluth, Crookston and Morris.

"On the whole we’re not down precipitously," she said about enrollment. "The composition is different. We have more Minnesotans which we’re very happy about. We not surprisingly have fewer international students and fewer non-reciprocity students. Most of our peers in other states have also similar composition. So students are staying closer to home."

Still, she said the U of M system is still looking at a potential $350 million budget shortfall.

Enrollment is also down slightly at Minnesota’s 17 private colleges and university, according to Dr. Paul Pribbenow, president of Augsburg University, who represented the private college system at the hearing.

"I think across the board, across the 17 of us, enrollments are down just slightly, 1.5% to 2% on aggregate," he told the committee. "I think for most institutions that means they’re right on target to where they want to be."

Pribbenow said Augsburg undergraduate enrollment is actually up slightly but graduate school enrollment is down significantly. He said the school is projecting a budget deficit of about $5 million to $6 million. Augsburg has already cut salaries across the board and stopped contributing to the employee retirement plan to make up for the budget shortfall.