There are many things that look different as students return to campus this term. Arrows and signs mark the walkways through campus, buildings and classrooms have been redesigned and common spaces are lacking areas for students to convalesce like past years.
This is college in the middle of a global pandemic. This is the reality of what higher education looks like across the nation, as universities try to balance health and normalcy for students. “Walking across campus midday feels like walking through a ghost town in comparison to last year,” said Vandervelden Resident Assistant Jaren Kerr.
One of the chief worries at the forefront of universities minds as the pandemic made its way across the globe was enrollment for the fall. Pacific University is reporting a slightly smaller incoming freshman class than previous years, coming in at 350 first year students. Pacific is also welcoming 129 new transfer students this fall term.
“We are under our original goal from a year ago, but above our revised goal since COVID-19,” says Sarah Phillips, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It’s a smaller class coming in than previous years, but everyone is experiencing that right now.”
In terms of remote students, 61 first year students, 37 transfer students and 287 returning students opted to learn from home this term. “A lot of us on the admissions staff volunteered to check freshman in when they arrived,” said Karen Dunston, Associate VP for Enrollment Management. “They were all very excited, with a touch of nerves. They’re ready to move out and be stimulated, and learn again.”
Dunston reports that there’s been nearly 100% participation and attendance in online classes since the beginning of the term, showcasing the students’ willingness and fervor to adapt to the new learning environment. Many freshmen are also looking to the future, and investigating helping out with recruitment and leading tours for the next incoming class.
“Going forward, we’re all trying to be as positive and as helpful as possible,” said Dunston.
Despite the lonelier new normal on campus, students seem to be following the COVID-19 protocols as best they can. “I appreciate students that are good sports about it and are mostly happy and excited to be back in class,” said Phillips. “My primary concern is making it past these first weeks and upholding the same level of discipline.” — Ella Cutter
Photo: Student Ron Laylon exits his on campus dorm in the new COVID-19 normal (Barry Johnston)