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Colleges and universities from coast to coast are moving rapidly to close campuses and transition to virtual classrooms in lieu of face-to-face meetings as the spread of COVID-19 has transformed into a global pandemic.
In an effort to limit the spread of novel coronavirus, universities announced shutdowns and class cancellations beginning on Tuesday this week with Ohio State University. By Thursday, more than 250 colleges and universities had followed suit, including institutions with campuses in West Michigan.
Michigan State University immediately suspended face-to-face instruction in classroom settings and moved to virtual instruction. Students who can’t leave campus will still live in residence halls and eat together in dining facilities, according to the university.
Calvin University, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, Kendall College of Art and Design, Muskegon Community College and Western Michigan University will transition to online classes on Monday.
Davenport University canceled in-person classes on March 13 and 16, and will replace them with “online and alternative learning options” on March 17 through the end of the semester. Aquinas College, Hope College and Cornerstone University will resume classes online on March 23.
At many of these schools, students had already returned to campus after spring break last week. Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, Muskegon Community College and Cornerstone University all held at least two full days of regularly scheduled classes with students fresh from vacation.
Students from Ferris University, Kendall College of Art and Design and Aquinas College are on spring break this week and are asked not to return.
“This is a fluid issue changing sometimes by the minute,” Matt McLogan, vice president for university relations at Grand Valley State University told MiBiz. “Between Monday and Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic and the state of Michigan confirmed at least two active cases. Faced with these developments, Grand Valley and all of Michigan’s public universities acted quickly on Wednesday to convert to remote and online class delivery.”
Officials at Grand Rapids Community College had been in contact with local and state health authorities “all along,” asking for guidance on how to proceed in a safe, responsible way, according to Dave Murray, communications director at the college.
Then, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke with Grand Rapids Community College President Bill Pink and other higher education leaders by phone on Wednesday to discuss a coordinated effort to contain the virus.
Whitmer announced the state’s first two presumptive positive cases in Oakland and Wayne counties the night before, followed by a state of emergency declaration.
“We were in communication with other colleges, the school districts and community leaders during the day (Wednesday),” Murray told MiBiz. “We share many common programs and services, but also a commitment to keeping our people safe. We decided the best move was to transition to mostly online classes through the first week in April and reassess at that point.”
GRCC’s downtown campus will remain open and the school plans to continue to provide advising, enrollment assistance and other services.
Faculty at the college used Thursday and Friday to “access the transition to distance learning” and allow students who had never used online learning platforms to “get comfortable with the idea” and share their questions and concerns, according to Murray.
“We have a creative and innovative faculty,” he said. “We are confident it will work out and students will get the quality education they need to be successful.”
There are some labs and other aspects of face-to-face classes that might not transition well to online platforms and decision-makers at the college are looking into ways that students could still experience those aspects of learning in small groups.
“We’re still looking at those details,” Murray said. “There will certainly be some challenges as we move along this pathway, but we know this is the best move to keep our GRCC family safe.”
Earlier in the week, officials at GVSU told MiBiz it had already halted all university-sponsored travel to the countries identified as Level 3 by the CDC.
“We have a team that is meeting and planning daily for any contingency. The team is monitoring CDC guidelines and working with local health agencies,” Mary Eilleen Lyon, associate vice president of university communications at GVSU, said in an email to MiBiz. “We are aware of all those who traveled internationally on university-sponsored trips, and have a system for those who traveled personally to one of the Level 3 countries to self-report.”