From online dining hall orders to COVID-19 testing, local universities finalize fall plans


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Picture it: an empty dining hall on a busy college campus.

No more standing in line, scanning your ID card and then deciding what looks good to grab before sitting down with friends for a quick meal between classes.

Instead, students will pre-order a meal online, receive it in a pre-packaged container and then pick a place at least 6-feet away from their friends to sit and eat it. That’s what Southwestern University in Georgetown is preparing for in the fall as they work to continue delivering their unique higher education experience to about 1,500 students in this new COVID-19 climate. And that’s just the beginning.

“Every college or university has a plan A, Plan B and maybe a plan C,” said Dr. Dale Knobel, Interim President of Southwestern University.

The small, private school where professors typically have fewer than 20 students per class, has decided to go with socially-distanced face-to-face instruction.

St. Edward’s University in south Austin, which typically serves about 3,700 students, is also going with that option. It sent an email to students this past weekend with details about its COVID-19 safety plans. Sophomore Nolan Screen, 19, has also been checking a new website the university set up with the latest information.

“I’m pleased overall with what I see,” said Screen. “And I’m definitely looking forward to going back and getting the in-person instruction because nothing, to me, nothing is more important than getting in-person instruction and getting that experience of the professors.”

In a St. Edward’s faculty survey obtained by KXAN, 68% said they have health and safety concerns about returning to campus in the fall. When asked if they prefer face-to-face or remote learning, the answers were split with 53% wanting in-person learning and 47% feeling like remote is still the way to go.

Justin Sloan, Chief Data Officer and Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness and Planning at St. Edward’s, said students were also surveyed.

“A majority of students and faculty want to return to the classroom for that face-to-face learning opportunity,” said Sloan.

The university is in the process of securing vendors to provide enough COVID-19 test kits so that everyone – students, faculty and staff – can be tested right before classes begin in the fall. The university said it will cover the cost of the initial test, with no additional fees passed on to staff or students.

“That will give a baseline, ensuring that we’re not bringing anyone who may be asymptomatic to the hill top,” said Sloan.

Once the semester is underway, the plan is for all students and faculty to participate in a daily confidential and secure health screening that they can complete from their phone to quickly flag people who may be showing symptoms and get them the support they need.

Concordia University sign (Concordia University photo)_461361

Concordia University, a campus of about 2,500 students in northwest Austin rolled out a big announcement to students Monday called a “hybrid flexible model.” It allows a student to decide for themselves whether they are going to be in the class or participate in the class virtually.

Faculty also have the ability to choose if they want to teach in a traditional classroom, or from home.

“We have the technology on our campus, we have instructors who are familiar with teaching in lots of different realities, and we believe it’s important for our students to be able to make the decision that best serves they and their family,” said Concordia’s Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Kristi Kirk.

All three universities KXAN spoke with are giving older faculty or those with health concerns an option to continue teaching remotely.

They’re also preparing to change course if the COVID-19 situation changes, but take it from a college student to sum up what everyone is thinking:

“It’s going to be an adventure for all of us,” said Screen.

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