West Virginia University at Parkersburg announced Friday that its classes would remain mostly online-only in the fall semester, which starts there next month.
It’s one of the only West Virginia public colleges, so far, to announce such a move, though other institutions have said they will be increasing the use of online courses to reduce class sizes and in-person contact.
WVU Parkersburg President Dr. Chris Gilmer announced the change in plans Friday in an online Zoom news conference.
He noted, among other facts, that West Virginia had the highest coronavirus transmission rate in the nation one day last week, and this week, the U.S. reported its highest number of new cases in a single day — more than 77,000.
He read the names of students who died from COVID-19 in other states.
Gilmer’s announcement came before students’ tuition payments are due.
“Do I believe that this has the potential to harm enrollment? Yes I do,” Gilmer said. “Do I believe that this has the potential to harm our financial bottom line in the short term? Yes I do.”
“Do I expect every one of you to agree with my decision? No, I do not. The bottom line is I must live with my own conscience, and I cannot be a person who places any value higher than the value of a single human life.”
Dr. Torie Jackson, vice president of institutional advancement for WVU Parkersburg, said up to one fourth of students may still have at least one class on campus in the fall — most likely including those in technical programs like welding; residential and commercial electricity; and computer information technology.
“It doesn’t mean that they would be here every day,” Jackson said.
She said the college will try to make most of the lectures for such programs virtual, and some in-person portions, like clinicals for nursing students, won’t be on campus.
The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine is also staying mostly online, according to its website.
“Students will only be expected on campus for specified lab course activities and these will be done in small groups,” that graduate school announced. “Students will be paired together and assigned to a small group or pod that will be used for lab courses during the academic year. Thus, students remain more isolated by reducing student-to-student contact.”
These colleges, despite being novel in West Virginia, are not the first in the nation to make the move. Harvard University and the California State University System, have announced they will do likewise.
WVU Parkersburg is both a community college and a four-year degree school, and it has no dormitories.
It isn’t actually part of the WVU System, which is still planning a mix of in-person and online classes in the fall, with students returning to the dorms on its campuses.
Jessica Tice, spokeswoman for the state’s higher education oversight agencies, wrote in an email that “this fall, you’ll see two- and four-year colleges across the state thinning out physical classes to reduce the number of students in a room, in accordance with state and local health department guidance, and you’ll see more classes offered online than have been in the past.”