Kirkwood Community College this week joined the chorus of campuses unveiling some semblance of plans for the upcoming fall semester amid a global pandemic by officially committing to reopen campus and offer a blend of in-person and virtual learning options.
Cedar Rapids-based Kirkwood — which boasts regional learning centers across Eastern Iowa and a campus in Iowa City — joined most other colleges and universities mid-March in shifting to virtual instruction and canceling in-person meetings, activities, and events as COVID-19 spread.
The campus remains in an online-only courses status, even as some faculty return to work. And some summer lab classes have been approved to resume in an in-person fashion July 6, albeit with new COVID-19-specific protocols — like face mask, social distancing, and safety training requirements.
And the college will fully reopen for the fall semester, scheduled to start Aug. 24 and end Dec. 14. Kirkwood has not announced any amended semester schedule or timeline like some colleges and universities across the state and nation.
Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa this week announced plans to start the fall semester a week sooner — on Aug. 17 — and end the day before Thanksgiving. University of Iowa has not announced fall details, including whether it will amend its academic calendar.
In Kirkwood’s recent announcement that it will resume in-person instruction and activities this fall, officials promised new online and hybrid-learning options as well.
“In most cases, students will have the flexibility to choose options that best suit their learning needs,” according to a Kirkwood news release.
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Because Kirkwood, like many community colleges, hosts an array of academic options for a range of students — including adult learners, transfers, and those in career and technical programs — virtual and in-person offerings will differ depending on specific program requirements.
Some might meet in person but with smaller class sizes, others might provide course material online with no fixed meeting time, and some might meet online at an arranged hour — or offer the flexibility to choose between in-person or virtual options.
The campus, like Iowa’s other higher education institutions, is rolling out extensive safety measures meant to quell the spread of COVID-19 on any Kirkwood properties, according to Kirkwood Vice President of Academic Affairs Bill Lamb.
“We’re putting the finishing touches on the plan to reopen our campuses in a safe and smart way,” Lamb said in a statement. “Kirkwood has always adjusted to the needs of students, but what this virus has forced us to do is take an even deeper look at how we can help our students reach their goals on their terms.”
Kirkwood students approved to return to campus later this summer, for example, are being asked to notify their instructor if diagnosed with COVID-19, exposed to a COVID-19 case, or exhibiting viral symptoms.
Those students also should stay home for at least two weeks, according to Kirkwood guidance.
All summer students must complete new COVID-19 safety training; observe social distancing practices; disinfect lab spaces and equipment; use sanitizer; and wear a “Kirkwood provided mask.”
“It is not to be assumed that all risk from COVID-19 will be eliminated,” according to Kirkwood’s COVID-19 page. “Rather, these protocols provide the opportunity for the college to continuously monitor and evaluate risk, and to adapt practices to mitigate that risk.”
Kirkwood hasn’t shared specifics of what might be required of students returning to campus in the fall.
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“While we’re going to have to respect social distancing guidelines, I think students are going to be very pleased by the flexible options they will have at Kirkwood to get an affordable education,” according to Lamb.
Even before the pandemic, Iowa’s community colleges were seeing year after year of online enrollment growth — even when total enrollment dropped.
Online enrollment for the state’s community college in the 2019 academic year reached a record 62,731 — up from 60,689 the year prior.
The community colleges’ online enrollment has surged 92 percent since 2007.
Kirkwood specifically last fall reported an online enrollment of 22,149 hours or 4,549 students — a 3.3 percent increase over the year prior. Its blended course enrollment — those classes involving both in-person and online instruction — was up 9 percent.
As COVID-19 has impacted many Iowans financially, Kirkwood — like other campuses — is offering coronavirus-specific grants via federal aid, along with scholarships already in place.
As of a month ago, Kirkwood had awarded $1.8 million via the federal CARES Act to 1,247 students.
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