Looking Ahead To Fall 2021

No one was fully prepared for everything we’ve overcome in the last year.

We dealt with new class schedules and safety protocols, adjusted to integrating our digital classroom platform more fully into the curriculum, learned to cope with isolation, found creative ways to continue our students’ education and more.

I’m incredibly grateful for all our campus community has done to keep each other safe while continuing to press ahead. We successfully limited the transmission of COVID-19 on campus because of the cooperation with safety practices we put in place.

And now we turn our attention to what’s ahead for Dalton State. We have hope for fall 2021 as the country takes steps to reach herd immunity.

Due to the decrease in cases in our area combined with an increased availability of vaccines, we are currently expecting to return to more normal operations for our fall 2021 semester. We don’t know exactly what that will look like yet, but it should resemble fall of 2019 more so than fall semester of last year. We don’t intend to move backward, though, and we will be incorporating much of what we learned this last year as we begin making our plans.

Since August, we have been back on campus in some capacity with health protocols in place. We have operated in a way that helps ensure students can be distanced in classrooms while providing all students a chance to attend class in person at least half their class periods and participate virtually the remainder of the time. Similarly, many of our employees are working partially from home to allow for distancing.

We realize some students would prefer to be on campus every class period, and many of our faculty would prefer a full classroom of students who are more readily interactive with questions and class discussions. Yet others prefer the flexibility hybrid and virtual classrooms offer.

We have learned important lessons during the past year of operating in a COVID-19 environment and know how valuable it is to offer virtual services and activities for our primarily commuter student population. Our student participation and engagement rates have actually increased this past year, especially in tutoring and student life activities, for example.

We have also (by necessity) improved our ability to deliver hybrid and online classes and plan to incorporate the practices that have worked well during the pandemic going forward. Some of our students and employees have discovered limiting their commute to campus to two or three days each week can be a good thing. When a student’s car breaks down or a child becomes ill, the option to participate in class virtually for a day or two can ensure the student doesn’t lose momentum in their classes.

We have offered online classes and degree programs for several years, primarily to accommodate working adults who have other responsibilities during normal class times. As we move forward, we will continue to explore ways to better serve our diverse student population using lessons learned from this COVID-19 environment.

We will reflect on what practices should be retained to maximize the success of both our students and our employees as we prepare for emerging from this pandemic. We talk about a return to normalcy, but in fact we should be striving to be better at serving our community than we were before the COVID-19 virus shut us down.

To learn what to carry forward, we are conducting surveys and asking for feedback from our campus community. How can we better serve students based on what we now know about remote instruction and services? And how can we balance the needs of our students and the college with the needs of our employees?

As we prepare for fall 2021, we realize these plans may change on a moment’s notice. We continuously rely on the guidance and protocols set forth by the University System of Georgia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Department of Public Health.

For now, we recognize the pandemic is still ongoing. We continue to follow the four pillars of safety on campus: practicing good hygiene, staying home with COVID-19 symptoms or after direct exposure, maintaining appropriate distances and wearing masks. We encourage everyone to receive their vaccine as soon as possible.

We see a bustling campus and a better Dalton State ahead.