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For those entering college or returning in the fall, the COVID-19 pandemic will bring about many changes, including online or hybrid semesters.

Melanie Corn, president of Columbus College of Art & Design in Columbus, and Angela Johnson, vice president of access and completion at Cuyahoga County Community College in Cleveland, said their colleges are likely going to use a hybrid schedule, where some classes are held in person with smaller class sizes, and others online.

At CCAD, Corn said welcoming new students to campus came down to making important changes in the onboarding process.

“We’ve made a few decisions already when it comes to fall semester, like how we would traditionally do an orientation in June to come to campus, which keeps us motivated and invested,” she said. “We decided to change that to an August orientation. We are currently moving some of those functions to a virtual format. Even if we can welcome them back to campus in August, being able to complement that with online engagement during the summer is key.”

Additionally, Corn said the freshman-style dorm will have only one student per bedroom to reassure families the school is “taking the extra step.” Plans are also in place to stagger studio classes.

Tri-C leadership has yet to solidify concrete plans for the fall, but in case classes continue to be online, Johnson said students should be ready.

“We’re looking at what courses we could offer from a social distancing perspective and what is probably more likely to stay online,” she said. “We’re working through the decisions as we’re preparing to onboard students to make sure they have the information about what we want to do.”

When classes switched online in March, Johnson said Tri-C made sure all students had the right materials and know-how to succeed, and prepared students with devices and wi-fi.

Another way new students can get introduced to life at CCAD is by viewing the work of classes that came before them. Traditionally, these shows would be produced in person, but CCAD has placed every graduating senior’s portfolio project online. Corn said this in itself is a great resource for incoming freshmen.

“It is a great asset for prospective students, they have a great online resource for what is being produced and get excited about the different majors we have,” she said. “We are finding different ways to engage students. We’re able to reach more people because there are only so many people that can attend an event. Especially with this generation, this is where they live.”

Johnson said Tri-C is exploring ways for small groups to meet to make sure incoming students have access to the same services as previous classes.

“Going away to college is already a scary experience, especially if you’re doing it by yourself,” she explained. “Creating these engagement opportunities to help students connect is something that we’re trying to work through especially since freshmen haven’t built those friendships yet.”

Making sure students feel connected to their campus, no matter how that looks in the coming semester, is an important part of college life.

“It comes down to a sense of belonging,” Johnson noted. “Students within their first three weeks of their educational experience are deciding if they belong or not. In those three weeks, students are trying to decide if they should stay or go. Connecting early makes a huge difference in a student’s ability to persist.”

Corn added, “That is the point. The earlier you can create that connection, you’re increasing the stickiness of a student and then they’re less likely to drop out and more likely to retain and be satisfied with the experience. Getting them across the finish line depends on what happens in those first few weeks.”

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