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Dorms, classrooms, auditoriums and sidewalks will remain bare this fall semester following an announcement from Morris College President Leroy Staggers, who said classes will continue online for the remainder of 2020.
Local colleges, such as Central Carolina Technical College and USC Sumter, plan to conduct a soft reopening for campuses this upcoming semester, but these schools do not house students as Morris College does.
“Unlike the other institutions in town, we are a residential campus,” said Jacob Butler, the college’s interim academic dean. “One of the things we have to factor into the equation is, ‘How would you provide for and ensure the health and safety of board and students?’”
From students living in dormitories, eating in dining halls and being face to face with one another and their professors, Butler said it was near impossible to keep everyone healthy and safe without worry.
He said, on average, 700 to 800 students, faculty and staff are on the campus grounds on a daily basis, and the college took that and data showing how coronavirus cases have increased in South Carolina and other regions of the U.S. into consideration.
“Students and parents have been calling and expressing their concerns, and we took all of that under advisement, as well as just the cost,” Butler said. “We also had to look at students from various other places.”
Every year, the college enrolls students from across the Atlantic Coast, and the total cost of housing these students amid a pandemic would be near impossible. Butler said the college reviewed the costs of how to handle various situations such as where to quarantine students who test positive, how to conduct contact tracing of the virus, how to regulate and enforce personal protective equipment and how to maintain sanitation across campus. In the end, it wasn’t profitable.
“President Staggers, in an abundance of caution, made the determination since we had the capability to provide remote instruction,” Butler said. “It’s not our preferred mode, but we did have the capability because we had done it in the spring, and we had done it during the summer… With health and safety being the paramount consideration above everything else, the determination was made that if it was possible to still deliver instruction and not compromise the safety of students, faculty and staff, then that was the better course of action.”
Andrew Little, director of enrollment at Morris College, said incoming freshmen have been affected the most by this decision, but they were also the most understanding, given the circumstance.
He said there has been both an expression of sadness and relief following the decision. Freshmen look to attend college in hopes of a new start and a sense of freedom, but it would seem as if nothing has changed since they graduated from high school this past spring. Little sees this is as a benefit for the newcomers, though.
“They had a taste of it in the end of their senior year in high school, so obviously they understand the seriousness of the situation,” Little said. “Our students have been very understanding and definitely express a desire to attend, even if it is virtual.”
Little said Morris College is seeing an increase in enrollment this year in all categories compared to where it was in 2019.
“The overall appeal of attending Morris College is definitely still hot, even in the midst of COVID-19,” Little said. “We’re still getting applications processed for the fall.”
He said students were very optimistic and still look forward to the college’s reopening day, whenever it may come.
“The college did have a couple of virtual town hall meetings in which students and parents were able to ask questions, and many of the questions centered around safety and health concerns,” Butler said. “We also commissioned a survey of our incoming students to ask them questions about those matters.”
The survey asked students if they would still enroll at Morris College if it meant giving up living on campus, extracurricular activities and more with COVID-19 restrictions in place. Butler said the response data indicated that two-thirds of the students were willing to abide by the future restrictions in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
“We see ourselves, as good citizens of Sumter, we want to be a part of doing what we can do to help contain and reduce the risk of exposure here in our community. We don’t want to do anything that will make it difficult for the Sumter community to contain the spread of the virus,” he said.
With the change to online, students were advised to complete all matters pertaining to academic advising and registration, procedures to qualify for financial aid and payment of fees through the Morris College Learning Management System and other remote means.
Once students are officially enrolled, they will receive course information and assignments for their classes from their professors.
In order to assist students with these processes, all administrative offices will be open Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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