On the same day Utah tracked its highest number of new COVID-19 numbers yet, Weber State University announced it would continue its flexible course schedule — which means offering in-person, hybrid and online options — into spring 2021, “with an emphasis on increased face-to-face instruction where feasible,” read an email Provost Ravi Krovi sent to students on Friday.
In terms of the spread of COVID-19, the university is faring fairly well compared to schools of a similar size. Weber State, which has 29,644 students, reported 12 active cases of COVID-19 as of Friday. Nearby Utah State University had 27,810 students in 2019. The school reported 192 active cases of the virus on Thursday.
Students at Weber State have, for the most part, spent significantly less time on campus this semester than in fall semesters past. According to a press release from the school, 30% of its classes have some on-campus component — 11% of which are fully face-to-face. Meanwhile, 59% of courses are completely online, while the other 11% include individualized instruction.
“I think the success that we’re having this fall is what made us feel comfortable in having a similar situation for spring,” said Weber State spokesperson Allison Hess. “We seem to be doing it safely and students are learning successfully.”
After the first two weeks of fall semester — which began Aug. 24 — the university surveyed students and faculty “to gather feedback on fall courses and preferences for the spring schedule,” Krovi wrote in the email to students.
The survey asked students and faculty whether they preferred to learn and teach in flexible, virtual hybrid, virtual, online, face-to-face-hybrid or face-to-face settings. Respondents could answer agree, disagree or neutral to each choice.
Faculty responses to the survey primarily favored remote learning options, with 59.36% saying they agree that given current conditions, they prefer to teach online. Students, however, indicated they would rather have more in-person educational opportunities, with 59.87% saying they agree that they prefer face-to-face courses.
“A lot of students, as a whole, are unsatisfied with paying for in-person classes and not getting that,” said Jennifer Greenlee, the editor-in-chief of Weber State’s student newspaper, The Signpost.
As a response, in part, to this dissatisfaction, Weber State cut its student fees by 15% — or $75 for a full-time student — this semester.
Still, not all students are eager to be back on campus. Survey results showed that 57.61% of students also said they agree they prefer online classes.
“A lot of students are comfortable with face-to-face and comfortable with the risk to get the education they feel like they’ve paid for,” Greenlee said. “But there is a lot of concern among other students about bringing (COVID-19) back home.”
Many of the students who are more worried about the virus, according to Greenlee, are nontraditional students. Weber State’s Nontraditional Student Center defines nontraditional students as anyone who is over 25 years old, has a spouse or committed partner, is divorced, is widowed or is a parent. According to the center, approximately 56% of students fall under this category.
Despite the risk associated with potentially having to come to campus for instruction, early indications show that the virus isn’t deterring students from signing up for spring semester. Weber State, according to Hess, is on track to match its record breaking enrollment numbers from the 2019-2020 academic year.
“We don’t have any numbers officially, but our numbers for spring look solid compared to last year at this time,” Hess said. “So we know students are looking at the situation and feel comfortable enrolling in classes.”