BEMIDJI -- Staff and students at Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College are hoping COVID’s Delta variant won’t derail their plans for normalcy this fall.

“No masks, no restrictions, no joke” was the original sentiment going into the 2021-2022 school year, but with a recent rise in COVID cases in Beltrami County, a mask mandate was implemented on Monday, Aug. 9. However, both colleges still plan to hold a school year nearly identical to those that took place pre-COVID.

The mandate will be reevaluated on Monday, Aug. 30, after which the mandate could extend two more weeks or expire Tuesday, Aug. 31, according to BSU’s website.

“More and more people are getting vaccinated, so we’ll be able to operate safely and provide a more robust school year,” said Travis Greene, vice president of student life and success at BSU and NTC.

According to Director of Admissions Andy Wright, overall enrollment is down 5.3% at BSU while NTC’s enrollment is even with last year. In-person enrollment at BSU is down 19% while online enrollment is up 15.8%.

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“Some of that is due to changes in how classes are coded and moving some formerly in-person classes to online,” Wright said. “It may not be a change in student behavior, but a change in how we’re offering those opportunities.”

Abbie Newman and Jordan Hines study in the A. C. Clark Library on the first day of class in 2020 at Bemidji State University. (Pioneer file photo)
Abbie Newman and Jordan Hines study in the A. C. Clark Library on the first day of class in 2020 at Bemidji State University. (Pioneer file photo)

Wright provided another insight that BSU is one of two schools in the Minnesota State system with an increase in freshmen enrollment of 7.5% for the upcoming semester. Wright also anticipates that international enrollment will increase from last year.

BSU and NTC remain test flexible with regards to the ACT. “Several students are still unable to take the test, so we’re making decisions based on high school transcripts,” Wright said. “We’re not requiring an ACT for admission or freshman merit scholarships, and this will continue for fall 2022.”

Following a tuition freeze last fall, Greene said tuition increased a small percentage this past spring. He also said tuition has increased 3.5% for this year.

While overall enrollment is down, 910 students will live on-campus, almost the same number as pre-COVID occupancy. This number may increase as more housing requests come in with the first day of classes approaching.

In comparison, this last year saw BSU limiting the number of on-campus students to 500 including students with in-person classes, student-athletes and those with extenuating circumstances.

BSU will also have isolation housing in Pine Hall for those who develop COVID symptoms and freshmen will be housed exclusively in Oak and Tamarack Halls again. The increase in on-campus occupancy comes with students being allowed to have roommates again as well as a majority of BSU classes, roughly 70%, being offered in-person.

NTC will offer about 60% of their classes in-person along with some hybrid options and predetermined in-person dates for certain online classes.

While most classes are in-person again, some that were online this past year are staying online. Certain faculty who have health concerns also have the option of continuing remote teaching. All other staff have been transitioning back to campus over the past several months.

During initial planning for this upcoming year, most courses included back-up delivery methods if public health conditions deemed them necessary. These included defaulting to synchronous online class meetings at specific times and asynchronous online classes, although these have since been removed from the academic schedule.

“We are not pivoting or defaulting to online classes,” Greene said. “The only mitigation is face masks. Everything else can be safely managed.”

The near-normal on-campus student population also leads the way for BSU’s Lakeside Food Court to reopen. Four stations will be open including Mexican and Asian cuisine being combined into one and Greens to Go serving prepackaged salads.

Einstein’s Bros. Bagels is closed for this upcoming year, so Lakeside will open for breakfast to compensate. EcoGround’s, the Lodge convenience store, Wally’s dining hall and the Upper Deck will open at normal hours and without distanced seating. Grant Avenue Cafe at NTC will remain open at its normal hours as well.

Travel restrictions are virtually nonexistent aside from mask requirements when riding in state-owned vehicles with passengers and international travel being restricted. All other travel for athletics, music tours, club events and other meet-ups are currently permitted.

“We don’t have any intentions of going back to how things were this past year,” Greene said. “We also don’t make decisions on a whim. We participate in campus forums and communicate to students in many ways so that they stay informed about these Delta cases that continue to affect us.”

Move-in day for BSU and NTC is Thursday, Aug. 19, in conjunction with Welcome Day festivities, although students have the option of early move-in starting Saturday, Aug. 14. NTC students who attend and complete a scholarship application on-site will be eligible for additional scholarships, a release said.

“The potential scholarships available only to students who attend Welcome Day adds a good bit of excitement,” said Tyler Peterson, director of the Student Success Center at NTC. “It’s fun to connect with so many of our new students and share with them helpful resources and guidance to make their NTC experience the best it can be.”

Along with BSU’s general orientation weekend, Project 20 is a new initiative that aims to connect 2020 high school graduates who attend BSU and those living on-campus with meaningful social experiences they may have missed this past year. Project 20 has a separate orientation running Aug. 20-22.

Fall classes begin Monday, Aug. 23.