Western Washington University will open for in-person classes this fall, but it expects to use a hybrid approach that allows for a mix of online and in-person classes, President Sabah Randhawa announced in an email to campus Tuesday. The first day of the fall quarter is Sept. 23.
Like many other universities around the state, Western has delayed the date that incoming freshmen needed to confirm enrollment by one month, to June 1. National surveys show many graduating high-school seniors are considering postponing enrollment because of the pandemic. Some experts say college enrollment could be down as much as 20% this fall, with regional colleges and universities especially hard-hit.
Last week, University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce said the UW intends to open in the fall with in-person classes, and she sketched out a similar approach to the first quarter, with large lecture classes taught online, and frequent testing and contact tracing. The UW kept to a May 1 deadline for the incoming freshman class, and enrollment was about the same as last year.
To safeguard students and staff against COVID-19, WWU’s Randhawa said a planning committee has recommended a variety of options, including: moving large lecture-hall sections online, supplemented with smaller, in-person seminars; moving small- and medium-sized classes to large lecture halls; and spreading classes across days and times, with staggered end times to reduce class size and ensure safe social distancing.
Other steps may include what Randhawa described as “safe-occupancy living quarters in university residences, an indefinite prohibition on gatherings above a specified size, continued limitations on visitors to, and travel away, from campus, use of face coverings and other protective equipment, and frequent deep cleaning of facilities.”
The Whatcom County health department has told Western that it believes there will be sufficient capacity to test students for COVID-19 through the Student Health Center before they arrive in September, Randhawa wrote, and that it also had the capacity to conduct testing throughout the year.
“Our plan includes dedicated quarantine space for on-campus residents who may be exposed to the virus, and for any student who tests positive for the virus, we will provide isolation space,” Randhawa wrote. As for those students who live off-campus, as well as employees, anyone exposed or tested positive will be required to stay at home until they are cleared to return by a health care provider.
Correction: Due to an error in Western’s letter to campus, an earlier version of this story said the fall quarter starts Sept. 25. It starts Sept. 23.