GREAT FALLS — Though what it may look like is still unclear, Fall semesters throughout the Montana University System are beginning to take shape.
MUS and their Healthy Fall 2020 Task Force released a COVID-19 prevention guidelines handbook Monday.
Additionally, the Montana Commissioner of Higher Education is encouraging campuses in the MUS system to end fall semester by November 25th.
According to a press release from Great Falls College MSU, the idea behind this is will reduce the risk of increased COVID-19 infections associated with Thanksgiving break travel. Instead of having students leave for Thanksgiving and then come back to campus, the fall semester will end prior to the holiday.
For Great Falls College-MSU, that means starting their fall semester on August 17, one week earlier than anticipated. This start date will allow the school to maintain it’s 8-Week Advantage Program, which Dean and CEO Dr. Susan Wolff says has been very popular over the past three years.
“We decided that we’re going into our third year for our general studies classes, instead of having one, long 16-week semester, we were going to break it into two, 8-week blocks,” Wolff explained. “So, instead of taking maybe three to five classes all semester long, a student has the option of taking two to three per eight-week block, and then that way they can keep their life together for those eight weeks, they can complete credits, they know they’ve been successful, and much more likely to stay with us and come back for that second eight-week block. We’re seeing a higher retention rate because of this, so that helps our students manage their time and manage their lives better.”
Despite having one less week to prepare for Fall classes, there did not seem to be a feeling of concern among faculty members about the preparation process leading up to students’ return to campus.
Students can be found around GFC MSU’s campus this summer, but the majority of the school’s summer classes are either mostly or completely online.
The fall however, will tell a different story.
“I think it’s a great idea because we’re going to get back earlier, get going, but we’re able to stop before Thanksgiving,” said Chemistry Instructor Joe Barlow. “We don’t have to worry about travel for the holidays, things like that. People can relax.”
Industrial Technician and Renewable Energy Program Director Karry Hardman echoed that sentiment.
“(It) shouldn’t be too bad to do because a lot of our stuff is so hands-on,” Hardman said when asked if having one less week to prepare would have a big impact on him or his students. “We spend about four hours a day doing hands-on work, where it’s an hour in the classroom, so it shouldn’t be a whole lot. We’re going to do some prep and look into some virtual labs, so if we have to do we can get some of that done online.”
The first 8-week block will end on October 7, and the second block will begin October 12. That block will wrap up on November 25, and all online finals, projects and assignments will be due by December 4.
As for masks and social distancing, students and faculty will have to wait a little longer to find out what the Fall semester protocols will be.
“They’re (GFC MSU’s Healthy Fall Task Force) hoping to have information by mid-June about what we’re going to do for the rest of the summer and going into fall. So, I want that task force to do their work before I provide any answers on that,” Dr. Wolff said. “We’re working really hard, not only to keep our students and faculty and staff safe, we want to keep our community safe. We’re a big part of this community, and that’s one of our roles too. We just don’t think about ourselves, we want to think about the greater community.”
Wolff wanted to remind anyone wanting to take Fall classed at GFC MSU that all materials must be submitted by August 12. That means all applications, transcripts, and anything else the school asks for.