Suburban community colleges plan 'primarily online' classes in fall

  • Harper College plans to offer fall semester classes "primarily online" to protect students, faculty and staff, while holding out hope for some on-campus labs of fewer than 10 students at a time.

      Harper College plans to offer fall semester classes "primarily online" to protect students, faculty and staff, while holding out hope for some on-campus labs of fewer than 10 students at a time. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2019

Updated 5/19/2020 7:29 PM

As some four-year Illinois colleges and universities prepare for students possibly returning to campus this fall, suburban community colleges are taking a blended approach featuring a heavy dose of online learning and flexibility amid the uncertainty of COVID-19.

Harper College in Palatine and Oakton Community College, with campuses in Des Plaines and Skokie, plan to offer fall semester classes "primarily online."


Harper officials are holding out hope for some on-campus labs for fewer than 10 students at a time. Summer courses that began this week also are taking place online. Administrators are finalizing details for fall courses set to begin Aug. 24.

Oakton also will explore increasing the number of in-person courses, while officials develop phased-in, return-to-campus procedures requiring social distancing and wearing personal protective equipment.

"At this time, we plan to hold lab-based components of courses on our campuses, while practicing social distancing and limiting the number of people in classrooms," spokesman Steve Butera said.

Alternatively, leaders at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn hope to combine in-person and virtual instruction. Health safety requirements, governmental protocols or executive orders will affect how that model is implemented.

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"This flexible format is designed with safety as a top priority, while providing students the opportunity to receive instruction partially in person, if they choose," COD spokeswoman Jennifer Duda said. "While college leaders would very much like to offer hybrid instruction -- and that is our plan -- should conditions in August suggest it is unsafe to do so, we are prepared to move to fully online instruction."

Illinois' 48 community colleges substantially have changed how they deliver instruction during the state's stay-at-home order.

The Illinois Community College Board's Return to Campus committee will meet in the coming weeks to discuss guidelines for what colleges must consider -- instructional strategies, health and safety for students and employees, and student support -- to reopen this fall.

Meanwhile, officials at several suburban four-year private colleges -- Benedictine University in Lisle, Elmhurst College, Judson University in Elgin, North Central College in Naperville, and Wheaton College -- say they expect to reopen campuses for in-person classes in the fall but also are developing contingency plans.

Harper President Avis Proctor said science, data and input from public health officials regarding the pandemic drove the college's decision.

As most courses will be taught online, some will require students to attend live online class meetings at a set time. Students will be required to connect by webcam and microphone at given times, officials said.


Harper also has proposed some blended classes of online lectures and on-campus labs that would include fewer than 10 students, physical distancing, personal protective equipment and enhanced cleaning.

Proctor said the school is seeking state guidance to be able to teach some courses with those in-person labs. And while expecting the campus to remain "mostly closed," the college's Testing Center could open for appointments, she said.

Other community colleges are considering similar approaches.

College of Lake County officials will decide about fall classes this summer based on the governor's Restore Illinois plan and state and local health data. Officials plan to offer a majority of courses virtually with the possibility of in-person classes, if authorities permit, CLC President Lori Suddick said.

The Grayslake-based college will offer virtual summer courses with limited in-person classes starting July 6 for its Summer Boost session focused on applied career and technical education fields at its three campuses.

CLC is reducing class sizes to no more than 10 students, implementing 6-foot social distancing in classrooms and communal areas, requiring face masks, limiting building access, and deep cleaning classrooms, restrooms and campus spaces. A limited number of employees returning to campus will work with modified, staggered schedules and must complete PPE training while a majority of CLC's workforce works remotely delivering virtual instruction.

Elgin Community College leaders will announce their fall semester plan in June. "A number of these programs require in-person, hands-on instruction, and so long as the governor's guidelines permit it, we do intend to offer these programs in compliance with social distancing and other recommended measures," spokeswoman Toya Webb said.

Once allowed to reopen, the campus will install signage to guide students and employees through safety standards and plexiglass barriers in service areas. Face masks will be provided for those who can't bring their own, and hand sanitizer stations will be set up in key locations. Physical distancing measures will be in place in all work and classroom areas, officials said.

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