Here Are the Fall Plans for New England's Colleges and Universities

Some schools have announced their plans for an in-person fall semester

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Colleges and universities across New England shifted campus life to a virtual setting last March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold. A year later, as vaccine distribution ramps up, many schools are planning for a more typical fall semester in 2021.

Here's a look of what universities across the region are saying about their fall semesters.

Boston University

Most Boston University students will be learning in-person in the fall semester, the school's president announced.

President Robert Brown pointed to the increasing number of vaccinations as a positive sign for the fall. He noted that the school will continue its community COVID testing program in some form.

"We all yearn for a return to a post-COVID normalcy and for restoration of all elements of our wonderful living and learning campus environment at Boston University. This fall, we will take a giant step in that direction," Brown wrote.

Dr. Jill Biden paid a visit to a New Hampshire school Wednesday to talk about how the American Rescue Plan will help schools.

Northeastern University

Northeastern University expects to give students a “normal” fall 2021 semester, Provost David Madigan announced in a March 9 letter

Vaccinations and the prospect of in-person K-12 learning giving faculty and staff more time to work on campus should allow for a return to campus life, Madigan said. 

Students returning from a gap year caused by COVID-19, as well as schools making tests optional for admissions, have made the college admissions landscape much tougher for high school seniors with their heart set on their dream schools this year.

While the university hopes to welcome students back to a “normal” semester in the first week of September, precautions such as wearing face coverings and continued COVID-19 testing will likely remain in effect, he said. 

Northeastern University announced Tuesday that it will require COVID-19 vaccinations for all students returning to campus this fall.

The school will allow for medical or religious exemptions and promised to help international students or others who cannot get vaccinated before arriving on campus in the fall to get a shot.

Northeastern is the first Massachusetts college to announce that it will require students to get vaccinated. Only a handful of colleges across the country have taken that step, including Rutgers University and Rhode Island's Roger Williams University.

Northeastern will require proof of inoculation with vaccines that are approved in the country where the campus the student is attending is located. The school said the method by which students can show proof will be announced in the coming days.

“It is our hope that a full reopening in the fall will not only enhance our ability to achieve our mission, but also serve as a beacon of hope that a brighter future is within our grasp,” Madigan said. 

University of Maine

The University of Maine will return to “near normalcy” in the fall 2021 semester, according to a statement posted on the school’s website. Officials are preparing the school community for a traditional, in-person semester as vaccines become more available and public health guidance changes. 

“Faculty, staff and students should plan for more in-person instruction, courses and activities; more people in attendance at these activities, more students in residence; and, more facilities open with fewer restrictions,” the statement reads. 

Some pandemic-related guidelines, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, may still be in effect in the fall. 

Research shows some college students are experiencing severe mental health issues when universities shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic a year ago.

University of Vermont

The University of Vermont is planning for a “full on-campus experience" this fall,  President Suresh Garimella and Provost and Senior Vice President Patricia Prelock announced on March 15.

According to the academic calendar, the fall semester is expected to begin on Aug. 30. 

The university plans to increase its number of courses offered in an online and hybrid format by almost 25%, the letter said. 

Every student is encouraged to get vaccinated, depending on when they are eligible in their state. The university does not foresee the need for pre-arrival testing. Depending on data and CDC guidance, additional testing may occur in the early stages of the semester, the university said. 

Vermont quarantine and travel guidances in place at the time of campus reopening will be observed, the letter said.  

Dartmouth College

Dartmouth is "hoping to return" to a traditional, in-person campus in the upcoming fall semester, according to an email from Diana Lawrence, the school's associate vice president for communications.

The school will adjust its plans if new COVID-19 variants spread, vaccinations slow, or there is a significant increase in case counts in the spring and summer, Lawrence added.

Brandeis University

Brandeis is planning an in-person fall experience after the school reported low infection rates over the prior academic year and an increase in vaccinations. 

Further plans will be announced in the coming weeks as more state guidance is released, according to an announcement from Brandeis president Ron Liebowitz on March 16. Still, the school anticipates having both undergraduate and graduate students on campus in the fall, with a majority of classes taught in-person by faculty. 

Student activities, such as clubs and sports, will also resume in the fall, according to the announcement.

Liebowitz stressed that all of the plans are contingent on public health guidance to ensure campus is a "healthy, safe place."

Keene State College

Keene State College, a liberal arts school in New Hampshire, is including in-person classes, athletic events, on-campus activities and study abroad experiences in their fall 2021 semester planning, said Keene State President Melinda Treadwell. 

The university expects the vaccine effort throughout the summer will allow for the school to hold in-person classes and activities safely. 

Some colleges in New Hampshire have announced plans to bring students back full-time in the fall.

The state of the pandemic will continue to be monitored throughout the fall, as safety remains a top priority while the campus returns to normalcy, Treadwell said. 

“Our students have told us loud and clear that they want to be together on campus in our community,” Treadwell said. 

Salem State University

Salem State is returning to on-campus learning in the fall with some health restrictions and guidelines, such as mask-wearing, still in effect, the school’s president John D. Keenan announced March 18. 

“Based on public health trends, the anticipated acceleration of the vaccine rollout, and current state guidance, we are glad to offer a more 'traditional' campus experience,” Keenan wrote. 

Keenan noted that instruction will take place mostly in-person, though there will also be some online learning. Extracurricular activities, performances and celebrations will also be in-person. Still, guidelines around physical distancing and mask-wearing will likely still be in effect in the fall. 

Roughly 1,400 students will live in on-campus housing, with one residence hall designated a quarantine and isolation space, per the statement. Size limitations on social gatherings will depend on the current state guidelines. 

University of New Hampshire

The University of New Hampshire is planning a “fully open fall semester” with in-person classes, activities, and professional opportunities, school president James W. Dean Jr. announced Thursday. 

Dean said the school “will leverage” what they have learned about keeping students safe during in-person classes and open campus housing for the upcoming semester. He credited the school’s public health campaign, regular testing and tracing and testing labs for the success. 

Dean said guidelines on testing, face covering and density will still likely be in effect next fall. He encouraged members of the school community to get vaccinated if eligible.

Plymouth State University

Plymouth State University is planning on a "fully in-person" fall semester, according to a statement from Marlin Collingwood, the school's vice president for communications, enrollment and student life.

Collingwood noted the school will resume "in-person classes, athletics, and all student activities and on-campus events, including performances, exhibits, and more."

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth will resume in-person learning on campus in the fall semester, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Shannon M. Finning wrote in a letter to students.

"I hope you are as enthused about this news as I am – campus is not the same without all of you here with us and I cannot wait for your safe return in fall 2021!" she wrote.

Finning said that the school intends to welcome all of its students back to campus, as well as restarts on-campus activities and services. She credited the school's "proven success" at keeping COVID-19 cases at bay and increasing vaccinations for the reopening plans.

The school will continue to monitor changing public health guidelines.

Middlebury College

Middlebury College intends “to return to as many in-person living and learning experiences as possible in the coming semester,” school officials announced in a March 25 letter.

Faculty and staff have begun evaluating which parts of the academic curriculum are best offered in person and which can be offered online. Middlebury is preparing to provide remote opportunities for students who are unable to return to campus in the fall due to health concerns or international travel restrictions, the letter said.

With the recent announcement from Gov. Scott that all Vermonters age 16 or older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by April 19, Middlebury expects all students, faculty and staff returning to campus in the fall to be vaccinated except those with medical and religious exemptions.

“We have learned much about our own versatility, adaptability, and resilience in the past year, and we don’t want to miss the opportunity to put those experiences into practice,” the letter said.

Harvard College

Harvard will resume in-person classes and activities in the fall, Claudine Gay, the school’s dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, announced.

All students can return to classes and dorms on campus in the upcoming semester, Gay wrote in an email to community members.

On-campus resources, such as libraries, archives and museums, will also be open. School officials are currently aiming to bring staff and faculty back to campus on Aug. 2, top administrators announced in an email.

Gay wrote that some precautions, like frequent hand-washing and masking, may still be in place next semester — a reminder that the pandemic is still not over.

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