Spring semester classes will remain virtual at Huston-Tillotson University due to coronavirus pandemic

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Citing ongoing health concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic, classes for the upcoming spring semester will remain virtual for students at Huston-Tillotston University in Austin.

The university’s president and CEO, Colette Pierce Burnette, made that announcement Monday in a letter sent to the school community. She wrote that the university based its decision on scientific advice about the expected surge in cases and deaths as well as the anticipated release of a vaccine for the general public next year.

“The safety and health of the entire campus community remain paramount as our top priority,” Pierce Brunette wrote. “Please understand that the decision to be fully online was by no means an easy one. Unfortunately, the key factors leading to our decision for the fall term are still prevalent, and in some cases, even more daunting. Continuing with fully online teaching and learning is the best decision for our campus.”

She reminded students about the online support services that remain available to them during the next semester, including one-on-one virtual tutoring and emergency grants.

Pierce Burnette also shared Huston-Tillotson University will soon provide what she called a “persistence grant” to registered students. She said this will help them with “costs of obtaining an education during such a tumultuous time.” More information will be released later this week, she wrote.

Huston-Tillotson Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Wayne Knox said his team was monitoring the effects of the pandemic is having on Black and brown communities, in particular. Seeing a continued increase in cases, plus a vaccine forecasted to be distributed to the general public in the spring, at best, the decision was made to go fully virtual.

“We just did not feel comfortable running the risk of having a surge here on campus,” Knox said.

“Continuing with teaching and learning virtually for the spring semester is a crucial step in keeping us healthy, stopping the spread, and defeating the virus so we can all be together soon,” Pierce Burnette said in her letter. “Please remain vigilant in protecting yourselves and your loved ones from the spread of COVID-19 — wear your mask, wash your hands, avoid crowds, and maintain a safe distance.”

Huston-Tillotson junior English student Dymon Moore said she misses the camaraderie and fellowship with students on campus, but feels thankful the school is being proactive to minimize harmful risk of transmitting COVID-19 among the population.

“It shows that the school is taking the pandemic seriously. They are valuing their staff and faculty health. They are valuing their students health,” Moore said.

Knox said there may be a drop in enrollment, but he doesn’t believe it will be substantial. He said the University, which has held its spot in Austin for nearly a century and a half, isn’t going anywhere.

“With us being here for 145 years, we have weathered storms before. We will weather this one, as well,” Knox said.

Other local higher education institutions are announcing changes for the spring semester because of the ongoing pandemic.

The University of Texas at Austin will continue its hybrid approach, with about 80% of the student class hours occurring online. University officials said that the campus had a low density of on-campus students and they are expecting a similar mix for the Spring.

UT also shared recently that fall 2020 and spring 2021 undergraduate students will be able to choose a total of three classes to be graded on a pass/fail basis without penalty. Students will be able to view their final grades before making the decision, which is entirely optional. Requests for pass/fail selections will begin Jan. 6 and continue through June 15.

UT Austin also detailed how students will be able to participate in study abroad programs again this spring despite COVID-19.

Texas State University currently has 10 work groups, made up of more than 150 faculty, staff and students, discussing plans for the Spring. The university said it doesn’t plan to transfer to 100% virtual.

St. Edward’s University said it will continue its blended approach; most classes are held online but there are a handful that are being offered in-person.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at [email protected] or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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