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Classes on weekends, no spring break: Colleges scramble academic schedules for upcoming year

In mid-March, Emerson College students prepared to move out of their dorms following concerns about the coronavirus. Emerson College announced Wednesday that most classes in the fall will incorporate both in-person and online components, but students will not return to Boston after Thanksgiving break.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

A growing number of New England colleges are shifting their academic schedules for the upcoming year, sending students home for the fall semester before Thanksgiving, canceling spring break, and holding classes on holidays and the weekends.

Emerson College announced Wednesday that most classes in the fall will incorporate both in-person and online components, but students will not return to Boston after Thanksgiving break. Clark University in Worcester also announced that fall classes would end before the Thanksgiving break and, in order to accommodate that schedule, students will have to take classes on Labor Day and skip the fall break. Clark will also offer both in-person and online classes and, due to the longer break between the fall and spring semesters, the university said on Wednesday that it will offer a winter intersession with online classes.


Earlier this week, Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire also reworked its calendar to begin in mid-August and end classes before Thanksgiving. Saint Anselm will also have a longer break between the fall and spring semester to avoid students returning to campus during the height of the flu season, when scientists expect a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Colleges across the country are reshaping their academic calendars to address the public health risks posed by the pandemic. Notre Dame and Tulane University have announced similar plans, where students will not return to campus after Thanksgiving break.

As part of Emerson’s plan to bring students back to campus, it will launch a program called “One Emerson Flex Learning,” the college is adjusting its academic calendar to accommodate a “de-densification of classrooms, residence halls, and offices.”

“The vast majority of our students and their parents have expressed a strong desire to return to living and learning on campus,” President Lee Pelton wrote in a community e-mail. “Flex Learning is our approach to serve the various and diverse needs of our students, faculty, and staff during these unprecedented times, while preserving our commitment to a robust and vibrant campus experience.”


Repopulation of Emerson’s downtown campus will be staggered, starting mid-August when roughly 15 percent of the college’s staff will return. Classes will begin online on Aug. 31 to accommodate off-campus students moving into apartments, and the first day of in-person classes will be Sept. 2.

Because of the coronavirus, students and faculty will spend less time in Boston this year, finishing the semester online, Emerson said in its e-mail to students.

Following Thanksgiving break, all classes, review sessions, and final exams will be conducted remotely. After final exams, the college will offer an optional online winter term, although it is unclear whether that will come at an additional cost for students.

Emerson said it has plans for COVID-19 screening, contact tracing, and tracking supported by digital technology, and limiting capacity in stairways, elevators, and hallways. Face covering will be required in all campus spaces, including classrooms and residence halls, and they will be supplied by the college.

“No doubt, the Fall 2020 term will look and feel different from past semesters at Emerson, as it will at almost every college or university across the nation,” Pelton wrote.

Pelton said he anticipates the spring term will be “more traditional.”

Emerson’s online and in-person plan is similar to other Boston area school.

On June 1, Boston University announced that it would give its more than 18,000 undergraduate students the choice of in-person and online classes this fall under a program it has dubbed “Learn from Anywhere.” Later in the week, Northeastern University released similar plans, launching a program called “NUflex,” which will allow both students on campus and those living elsewhere to participate in classes.


In an e-mail to the Clark community, outgoing president David P. Angel and its new incoming leader David B. Fithian warned that while the university is trying to firm up its plans, the situation remains uncertain.

“The pandemic is far from over, and new information is emerging constantly about its evolving scope even as society strives to reopen and the intense pursuits for a vaccine continue,” Angel and Fithian wrote. “Should changes in the situation require it, the University will be prepared to adapt, including if in-person courses are not possible and the fall semester must be completely online.”

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe. Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.