BEMIDJI-- Bemidji State University announced it is ready to welcome students back in the fall -- but what will that look like?

While the summer has only just begun, BSU administrators are working tirelessly to try to figure out how the fall semester will work, despite ever-changing guidelines and general uncertainty.

BSU and Northwest Technical College President Faith Hensrud said both schools are optimistic about what the future holds, and hope students who are on the fence about returning in the fall, take the leap and do so.

Course delivery

The Minnesota State system left many of the decisions as to how to hold classes in the fall to individual institutions -- this means that many of the classes held at NTC will include an in-person component, while many of the courses at BSU will not.

Students will soon learn which format their classes will take so they will be able to make informed decisions about where they choose to live come August.

Fall classes at BSU and NTC begin August 24.

“Our intent is that by the end of next week, students will be able to go online and look at the courses they’re registered for and be able to understand how they are going to be delivered, so they can make that decision as to whether or not they’re going to stay where they are at home or they’re going to move to Bemidji,” Hensrud explained.

Some campuses will be doing more in-person instruction than others, she explained, including many hands-on programs at NTC that are required to include in-person components to remain accredited.

Hensrud used a construction electric course at NTC as an example of this.

“If you have a construction electric course you can’t do that all online and learn how to do wiring and the like without physically being there and doing it.

“They’re working on plans to maintain class sizes so that they are small enough so that people can still socially distance. We’re talking about requiring face masks,” she added. “And obviously sanitizing and cleaning all of the equipment that is used throughout the day would be an important piece.”

Hensrud added that many courses that include a face-to-face component may be in blended formats, meaning lectures may be held over video, while labs are held in-person.

Students attending in-person classes will likely be required to wear face masks. Masks will also be required to access student services, Hensrud said. Other decisions are still being made as to where masks will be required on campus.

She added that all students will be provided with masks.

Housing and dining

BSU recently announced upcoming housing changes -- most significantly, that students living in on-campus housing will not have roommates in the upcoming semester.

Associate Vice President for Student Life and Success Travis Greene explained that BSU will have the capacity to house 964 students in this spread out, single room manner.

BSU will also provide housing options for students who need to self-isolate or quarantine themselves. Currently, there are plans to use a couple of on-campus houses for this purpose.

Students may elect to live at home with parents instead of returning to Bemidji or campus housing, if their classes are slated to be delivered online. Hensrud said she hopes students will still consider coming to campus regardless.

“In some cases, students may choose to move here even if their courses are primarily in an alternative delivery format, because there will be other opportunities for them to engage in a socially responsible way,” she said.

Greene also said both the Wally’s and Lakeside dining centers will be open in the fall, but with a few changes.

Students will not be able to get self-serve food, from a salad bar, for example -- meals will be pre-packaged. There will also be fewer chairs around tables to encourage social distancing, he said.

Hensrud said there may also be staggered meal times for groups of students to help mitigate potential community spread.

Enrollment numbers

Enrollment is currently down and was projected to be down prior to the pandemic, Hensrud said. However, there has been more interest in applying for enrollment than usual.

“We’re seeing more interest from incoming students than is typical this time of year,” she said.

As of June 14, BSU has just over 1,400 undergraduate freshmen compared to 1,592 at this time last year -- representing an 11.7% decrease in enrollment.

NTC has almost 130 freshmen enrolled compared to last year with 160 freshmen enrolled by this time, an 18.9 % decrease in enrollment as of June 14.

Statewide, enrollment for summer session Minnesota State system courses has been steady, but Minnesota State is bracing for a potentially significant impact on enrollment for fall semester, according to Chancellor Devinder Malhotra.

Across the system's 30 colleges and seven universities, enrollment could decline by roughly 8% this fall compared to fall 2019.

On a press call Wednesday afternoon, Malhotra reiterated that school officials expect enrollment to rebound somewhat come spring. And even as enrollment in state schools continues to fluctuate in a decade-long downward trend, he said that it is still strong compared to other institutions in the state, making up approximately 65% of all undergraduate admissions in Minnesota.

BSU’s international student population will also be greatly affected by the coronavirus pandemic as many new international students will not be able to begin at BSU in the fall, and of those that were already here in prior years, many have returned to their home countries.

“We don’t anticipate that we will have a large population of international students this fall,” Hensrud said.

BSU is beginning to offer tours to prospective students again -- something that had been shut down since March, a crucial time as many students begin touring schools in the spring of their sophomore or junior years of high school.

For fall 2020 applicants, an ACT score will not be required for an application review or admission decision.

“Many students are unable to take these exams at this time,” a release said. “BSU will base admissions decisions on a combination of GPA, contents of your transcript, and any optional supporting documents (essays or letter of recommendation) submitted.”

Tuition freeze

The Minnesota State Board of Trustees announced a system-wide tuition freeze on June 17 -- keeping tuition rate at its current level for the fall. It was originally set to increase 3% in the fall, and will still do so in the spring.

“This is a different experience for our students, and if there was a way for us to, for the fall semester, figure out how we could absorb not increasing that 3% tuition, then we would look to do that,” Hensrud said.

Hensrud said this freeze will dry up funds from a program usually used to help update equipment at NTC, and that this would not be sustainable through the spring semester.