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Single rooms, small classes, and sanitizing stations: Life at Rhode Island colleges will be dramatically different

An aerial view of Brown University in Providence.
An aerial view of Brown University in Providence.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE — Smaller classes, daily COVID-19 checks, no roommates or lecture halls, and more remote learning.

These are some of the things that students can expect when colleges and universities in Rhode Island open for the fall semester.

Most schools are still in the final stages of determining what exactly the semester will be like, with guidance from the governor’s office and state Department of Health. What they know for sure: This won’t be the traditional college experience.

“We’re helping to reframe students’ and parents’ expectations for the fall,” said Kathy Collins, vice president for student affairs at the University of Rhode Island. “They’re not going to be on campus every day. That’s hard to think about.”

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Masks, social distancing, sanitizing stations, and rigorous cleaning of campus buildings will all be the norm at colleges and universities.

They are preparing to quarantine students arriving from states with high rates of positive COVID-19 tests, and they plan to stagger the arrival of students on campus.

Some schools are developing their own apps for students, faculty, and staff to use to “check-in” daily on whether they have any COVID-19 symptoms. URI, for one, will also have a mobile testing site on its South Kingstown campus, and other schools plan to offer coronavirus tests, as well.

Johnson & Wales University, in Providence, is getting a trial run starting this week, when 560 culinary students arrive for the summer classes, including 340 who will live on campus. The university started hosting the culinary students 14 days in advance, for quarantine, and “they are complying really well,” President Marie Bernardo-Sousa said.

Johnson & Wales University President Marie Bernardo-Sousa
Johnson & Wales University President Marie Bernardo-SousaJohnson & Wales University

But the main question she gets is how certain she is that the university will be able to operate through Nov. 20, before students go home for the Thanksgiving break. “We’re trying to minimize all of those risks,” Bernardo-Sousa said. But she acknowledged that the schools are dependent on how the pandemic affects Rhode Island and the restrictions set by Governor Gina M. Raimondo.

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Many, including Roger Williams University, are starting the semester early and ending in-person classes after Thanksgiving, then holding the remainder of classes and finals online to end the fall semester. The goal is to get ahead of the flu season and a possible second wave of the coronavirus.

President Ioannis Miaoulis said students will go through a “COVID orientation” when they arrive.

At the bucolic campus in Bristol, so quiet now that Miaoulis sees foxes cavorting on the grounds, the university president has been missing the usual bustle of students. The new school year will be different, but Miaoulis said, “I’m personally excited to see students back on campus.”

Brown University is in the final stages of planning for a range of scenarios and expects to announce its decisions no later than July 15, a university spokesman said.

One scenario is to have three semesters of instruction, with undergraduates on campus for two semesters, which would reduce the number of students on campus. Another scenario, depending on the pandemic, would mean conducting all fall classes remotely.

President Christina Paxson said in a letter to faculty and staff that there could be reduced class sizes, hybrid online, and in-person learning with livestreamed lectures, depending on the pandemic.

The university plans to offer remote classes for students who are unable to return to campus because of travel restrictions or health conditions.

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At Bryant University, varsity athletes will be the first to arrive, on Aug. 4, with other students arriving at later dates throughout August, until the start of classes Aug. 25. The semester ends Nov. 24.

Class attendance and dining will be staggered to reduce the number of people in rooms. All class sessions will be available on campus, via live streaming, and/or recorded for later viewing.

Community College of Rhode Island is offering a significant majority of courses online when the semester starts Aug. 31, in order to comply with indoor capacity limits, President Meghan Hughes said.

This summer, CCRI had allowed a limited number of students in health services programs back to its campuses to complete clinicals and lab work required for graduation.

“This approach has been successful, and we look to the lessons we have learned from the summer to modestly increase the number of students we can bring back to campus this fall, especially for courses and labs that require in-person learning,” Hughes said in a statement.

The college is developing plans to convert its facilities to allow students on its campuses. Great Hall, at the Knight Campus in Warwick, will be changed from a social gathering spot to a study space.

Johnson & Wales University, in Providence, will have about 20 percent of its classes online when the semester starts Aug. 31. The university will require students to stay in the same seats and keep the same work groups during the entire semester.

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The university is seeking to maintain in-person classes, with no more than 20 students per faculty member, and will offer live-streamed classes for students who can’t attend. The university will transition to all remote learning on Nov. 20, before flu season and in case of a second wave of the coronavirus.

Students will be allowed to move in two weeks before the semester starts, if they need to quarantine. Most will be living in single dorm rooms, and the university is considering renting hotel rooms to accommodate all of the students who need housing.

The university developed a COVID Code of Conduct and is asking students and faculty to download the “Crush COVID RI” app.

Providence College also plans to re-open undergraduate classes on Aug. 31, in-person on campus, with remote accommodations for students and faculty as necessary. There will be no class holidays during the fall semester. In-person courses will conclude Nov. 20 and shift to remote learning on Nov. 30 through the end of the semester on Dec. 11.

Plans for graduate and continuing education classes are pending. The college is still finalizing plans for quarantining students.

Rhode Island College submitted its plans to the governor’s office for review on June 14, but declined to disclose its plans last week . The college is considering various scenarios, including a delayed opening, fully remote classes, and limited on-campus learning.

Rhode Island School of Design will open with students on campus, but will try keep the number of students in dorms and classrooms, President Rosanne Somerson announced last month. Core studio and shop-based courses will be held in person or in a hybrid fashion and other courses will take place online or in a hybrid online-plus-embodied version.

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Where possible, employees will continue to work from home. Students, faculty and staff who return to campus will follow a multi-layered system of health and safety protocols. Students will move in over a four-day period, using a reservation system, and will be required to quarantine for 14 days. Dining is limited to pick-up and take-out.

Salve Regina University, in Newport, will be sharing its plans with students and families on Tuesday. Classes resume Sept. 9, but freshmen arrive Sept. 1-2, followed by returning students. The university is planning in-person classes and labs, which will be reconfigured for social distancing and technology allowing bi-modal teaching. The dining halls will have scheduled services and tables spaced to allow for social distancing. Health services include methods for testing and monitoring the campus population.

University of Rhode Island will have 50 percent of its courses online and no more than 50 students in a class. The university is also decreasing its density in residence halls, which will be at about 70 percent capacity. Students living in dormitories will mostly be in single rooms, though some newer buildings will have double-occupancy.

Still, instead of about 6,200 students living on campus, there will be 4,400, and the university is prioritizing first-year students. The university is seeking other arrangements with hotels and off-campus landlords for additional housing.

The university opens on Aug. 29, with classes starting after Labor Day. Move-ins will be staggered, and the university is creating a program for students to ship their belongings to campus.

The university will require students, faculty and staff to use an app for daily wellness check-ins before coming to campus. Most students may have a mix of in-person and blended courses.

Teams of staff and faculty are redesigning and reconfiguring classrooms, lecture halls, dining locations, campus recreation facilities, athletic complexes, and other areas on our campuses. Dining services are also adapting the dining halls and coming up with other strategies to for physical distancing.

Campus recreation and athletic complexes are preparing for students, but limitations on group sizes, reconfiguration of spaces, and alternate schedules and hours of operations are being considered.

Roger Williams University is starting the fall semester early, with students starting to arrive Aug. 15 and classes starting Aug. 26. The majority of classes will be in-person, although the school will also offer remote learning. The university is adapting its dormitories and classrooms to allow for more space.

There will be no in-person classes after Thanksgiving; the remaining course work and finals will be conducted remotely. The semester ends Dec. 10.

Dining halls will offer take-out to reduce crowds and may have scheduled dining assignments for students.

The university expects to open later in the spring, on Feb. 1, and end May 17. Classes will be held during Labor Day and Columbus Day in the fall, and Presidents Day and Spring Break week next spring to accommodate the condensed schedule.


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com