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Colleges, universities announce plans for fall 2020

A shots of a classroom in Killian shows the results of efforts to set the stage for social     distancing in WCU’s classrooms this fall. WCU photo A shots of a classroom in Killian shows the results of efforts to set the stage for social distancing in WCU’s classrooms this fall. WCU photo

In less than three weeks, classes will resume at Western North Carolina’s institutions of higher learning, and while instruction won’t rely entirely on digital learning as occurred this spring, the fall semester will be far from business as usual. 

Most college and university classes will use a blend of online and face-to-face learning and an amended academic calendar when the new semester begins Monday, Aug. 17, with many popular events and activities canceled for the months ahead. 


Western Carolina University

Unlike in years past, WCU students will not have a fall break or return to campus after leaving for Thanksgiving. 

“This schedule maximizes instructional time in the early fall and minimizes the opportunities for students, as well as faculty and staff, to travel away from campus on extended breaks. This strategy should reduce exposure to and spread of coronavirus,” said Chancellor Kelli R. Brown. “It also should align the academic calendar in such a manner as to avoid a densely populated campus in late fall and early winter, when the potential for a significant resurgence of the virus may be highest.”

The last day for face-to-face classes will be Friday, Nov. 20, with classes Nov. 23-24 and final exams held online. Most classes will use a combination of face-to-face and online teaching, though courses that cannot be taught virtually — such as labs and clinicals — will be prioritized for face-to-face instruction. Face coverings will be required at all times in classrooms and other public areas. To prepare for the semester, staff inventoried each classroom to determine its capacity under social distancing guidelines, ordering new furniture and revising classroom layouts where needed. The project involved removing 3,000 pieces of classroom furniture.

Social distancing will be emphasized in other aspects of campus life as well, including residence halls. Community kitchens, lounges, studies and lobbies will be locked where possible, with elevators limited to two passengers per car. No visitors will be allowed in the residence halls, except between students living in the same building, though each room may have only one guest at a time. Dining halls will serve to-go meals only with limited seating available, and a food truck on Killian Lane will accept exchange meals.

The university plans to hold athletic competitions this fall, including football, but will open with decreased spectator capacity. A three-phase priority plan will determine who receives admission to home games this fall. 

Spring commencement ceremonies postponed due to the pandemic are scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 12, with fall commencement planned for Sunday, Dec. 13. 

Other events are cancelled altogether. New Student Convocation, Valley Ballyhoo, the annual Freshman Run and Mountain Heritage Days will not be held this year, though New Student Convocation may be offered virtually later this fall. Homecoming Weekend and events associated with Family Weekend are currently under review, but the annual Homecoming Parade is cancelled. The Department of Campus Activities is not planning any concerts for the A.K. Hinds University Center, Ramsey Regional Activity Center or Central Plaza. 

This plan may change due to shifting conditions, and updates will be posted at


Southwestern Community College 

Like WCU, SCC will end in-person classes before Thanksgiving, with no fall break scheduled. A “Flex and Finals Week” after Thanksgiving will allow students to finish up pending course requirements remotely, with the last day of classes moved up two weeks to Dec. 4. 

While SCC will offer a range of face-to-face classes, all will have some level of online activity, and the college is ready to immediately transition to a fully virtual format should conditions warrant the move. Programs offered at the Public Safety Training Center, meanwhile, will continue to use in-person training. 

“We have considered a wide range of options for scheduling our fall semester, and we feel like this schedule affords us the most flexibility while also keeping our students and employees safe,” said SCC President Don Tomas. “One advantage of our current plan is that it keeps us on the same calendar as the public schools, so early college and other high school students can continue to take their college classes seamlessly.”

Face coverings are mandatory indoors at all SCC campuses and locations, as well as in any outdoor spaces where social distancing is not guaranteed. Anyone who does not comply with this policy will be asked to leave campus. Hand sanitizing stations, Plexiglas dividers in high-traffic areas and increased cleaning regimens will also contribute to public safety. 

Most ceremonies and student life events have been postponed through the rest of the calendar year, but a drive-through commencement ceremony for spring and summer 2020 graduates is still scheduled for Aug. 8. Officials will finalize plans for fall commencement ceremonies at a later date.


Haywood Community College  

Unlike SCC and WCU, HCC will offer a two-day fall break in October, with students returning after Thanksgiving to continue their courses through the last day of classes Dec. 15. 

Most programs at HCC will use a blended instruction approach that allows students to complete lecture activities virtually while offering hands-on labs in a face-to-face format that follows social distancing guidelines. 

The Haywood Early College will follow Haywood County Public Schools guidelines, and Workforce and Continuing Education courses will be offered online where possible, with limited in-person enrollment available for select courses. 

“Especially in these challenging times, HCC is committed to helping students reach their educational goals,” said HCC President Dr. Shelley White. “We have many options for students who prefer to take courses online, even entire programs, and we have made modifications in our lab and hands-on programs to follow all social distancing requirements to be able to offer these programs safely on campus.”

Students, faculty and staff must wear face coverings in all indoor and outdoor public areas and while meeting with others if social distancing cannot be maintained, though virtual modes of meeting and are encouraged where possible. 

Campus remains open for in-person services, and the public is welcome to use the disc golf course and walking trails. Use of facilities by outside groups is very limited, however. 

No team activities will be offered during Phase 2 of North Carolina’s reopening plan, but college leaders will continue to assess conditions and hope to add activities throughout the fall semester. As occurred in the spring, Student Life and the Student Government Association will host a variety of creative virtual activities to engage students  — last semester these included a virtual lip sync battle, online trivia nights and giveaways. 

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