Fall semester 2020 will look different than anything Western Carolina University has experienced before.
Residential living move-in began Saturday, Aug. 1, with carefully coordinated measures of social distancing, frequent sanitizing and other health measures in place, and no disruptions or problems were experienced, according to Keith Corzine, associate vice chancellor for campus services. “The smaller numbers of available appointment slots per residence hall allows for a social distanced move-in process that would not otherwise be possible,” he said. “So far, we are extremely pleased with how the move-in process has gone.”
Classes – traditional classroom, online instruction and hybrid delivery – will begin Monday, Aug. 17. For activities with a physical presence, facial coverings will be required and limited gatherings will be the norm, while other events typically associated with the resumption of a semester could be modified or suspended. For example, new students will receive information online about campus organizations and community resources available to them. A dedicated webpage has been established to keep the campus community and the region updated on WCU functions.
There will be no fall break and the last day of in-person classes will be Friday, Nov. 20. Classes on Monday, Nov. 23, and Tuesday, Nov. 24, which are immediately prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, will be held online. “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,” said WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown. “This strategy should reduce exposure to and spread of coronavirus.”
Enrollment for the semester is experiencing some effects from the pandemic, said Phil Cauley, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate enrollment, who is anticipating increased graduate and distance student enrollment. Forecasting enrollment is akin to tracking a tropical depression as it approaches shore — "and in this case, we have to calculate the potential impact of the COVID storm,” he said. “The pandemic potentially could interrupt successive surges the university has experienced in fall total enrollment, if enough students choose to delay or discontinue enrollment, or WCU may yet celebrate surpassing last year’s record enrollment of 12,167. Interestingly, we’re seeing a bump in applications for spring 2021.”
The official fall enrollment numbers will be established Friday, Aug. 28, the census date as specified by the University of North Carolina System.
“Because of the unprecedented challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic and the high priority of both sustaining the well-being of our campus community and implementing the academic mission of WCU, we plan to restrict or cancel most large-venue and mass-gathering programs and events for the fall semester,” said Sam Miller, vice chancellor for student affairs. “We will continue to monitor Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidance from the NC Department of Health and Human Services as the semester unfolds and will make additional changes as warranted by the circumstances.”
The first step for returning students, as well as commuter students, faculty and staff, is receiving a “Catamounts Care” packet, which contains reusable cloth face coverings, a large container of sanitizing wipes, a refillable bottle of hand sanitizer, a thermometer and a copy of WCU pandemic standards.
“Cat Tran” campus transportation is again fully operational, with the following restrictions in place:
Such stringent protocols, physical distancing and cleaning procedures also have been implemented across campus in public areas, classrooms and offices. Dining halls will have limited seating and provide take-out meals. No outside visitors will be allowed in residence halls and only one guest will be allowed in a residence hall room at a time. Classroom and lab space have been reevaluated, with space between occupants increased and capacity decreased.