As the fall semester begins to enter its final weeks, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) announced Thursday that the spring 2021 term will look very similar with most classes online and schoolwide health and safety protocols still enforced.
VCU president Michael Rao published an online message to students Thursday providing an update for the upcoming semester and highlighting some of the changes being made.
“Based on your responsible behavior, ongoing assessment by VCU’s Public Health Response Team, and current pandemic guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and CDC, we will proceed with a spring semester very similar to what you have experienced this fall with slight modifications to our spring semester academic calendar,” Rao said in the message.
Just like in the fall, students, faculty and staff will return to campus in January following a phased reopening approach, but the official start of the semester is being pushed back a week.
Many of the same COVID safeguards will remain in place, including decreased capacity in residence halls and classrooms, daily health checks and limitations on social gatherings.
One of the most notable changes for the spring is there will be no spring break, an effort to mitigate the risk of COVID being done by many colleges, and students will instead get two reading days – one at the end of February and another at the end of march, according to Rao.
Angelique James, a junior at VCU, was not too happy with some of the changes.
“I think the spring semester is [going to be] really difficult because we don’t have breaks. it’s more challenging to get through it and there is nothing really to look forward to,” James said in an interview with The Virginia Star. “Although we have two reading days next semester, I feel like we need a little more of a mental health break especially with everything related to COVID and being home all the time, it is just a lot [for students.]”
James, who has a hybrid schedule this semester, said she enjoys in-person classes more than online and hopes to have a better balance in the spring.
Other VCU students thought having no spring break was the correct decision.
“I think the fact that they took spring break away was a good idea just given how last spring break went,” Caitlin Reilly, a senior student, told The Star. “Everybody knew there was a pandemic, but everyone still traveled, including myself, because we didn’t think it was a big deal. Given how people are treating things now I think it’s the right idea.”
Of the 8,400 classes this fall, 58 percent of them are online. According to the VCU class registration website, 7,967 classes will be offered in the spring semester, but the amount that will be online versus in-person or hybrid is not clear.
Currently, VCU has had 287 total student cases of COVID-19 out of 4,236 residential students. There are 23 active student cases with three new ones reported on Friday, according to the VCU COVID-19 dashboard.
Fall 2020 undergraduate enrollment at VCU is down 3.5 percent compared to 2019. The enrollment numbers for male and female, in-state and out-of-state and full-time undergraduates are also down, but there was a 7.6 percent increase for part-time undergraduate students, according to early estimates from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
“Our highest priority in executing our mission is the safety of students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community,” Rao said. “Flexibility remains critical in addressing evolving situations presented by COVID-19, including changes in the prevalence of infection in our community, as well as changes in requirements, guidelines and best practices.”
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