Valley college presidents speak on plans for upcoming semester

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 5:25 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Presidents from four of the Valley’s colleges gave an update Tuesday on how their institutions are handling COVID-19 and their plans for the fall semester during the annual Presidential Address breakfast.

The event was put together by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce and had leadership from James Madison University, Eastern Mennonite University, Bridgewater College and Blue Ridge Community College.

Chamber President Chris Quinn says because all four of these colleges work with one another and with the community, it’s important to hear from their staff on what they expect the new school year will bring.

“Having the students coming back and the families that come with them, the professors that are coming back this gives businesses that kind of a sigh of relief that okay we’re back, time to get things going again we’re back at it,” Quinn said.

While this year’s address was held in person at the Spotswood Country Club as opposed to last year’s virtual address, COVID-19 was still the main topic.

“A couple of months ago I thought we would be excited to be talking about getting back to quote unquote normal and as John said yet again, here we are spending so many hours talking about COVID,” Jonathan Alger, president of JMU, said.

College presidents broke down their enrollment for the upcoming semester and what they’re doing this fall to have a successful school year. This includes a mask requirement on campus and a new mandate for vaccination records for state employees.

“That is still being reviewed and implemented, it’s effective September 1st so our Department of Human Resource Management is working with the community college system to determine how that will be implemented,” Dr. John Downey, president of BRCC, said.

Alger says this fall JMU is expecting an incoming class of 4,877 students and about 22,000 students overall. Bridgewater College will have a total enrollment of about 1,500 students with an incoming class of just over 400 students.

Colleges also spoke about what worked for them during the spring semester and what they plan to keep as an option for the fall.

Downey says for BRCC in a typical year, about 70 percent of students enroll in at least one online class, and last year that number rose to 97 percent. He says this year, they expect about 85 percent of students will enroll in at least one online class.

Dr. Susan Schultz Huxman, president of EMU, says the challenge of keeping COVID-19 numbers low last semester was a community effort.

“We kept COVID cases low or nonexistent and that just doesn’t happen by accident our COVID protocols were strict and students helped to enforce them,” Huxman said.

Each president ended their 15-minute speech by looking to the horizon as they plan and hope for old traditions to bring new faces to the Valley. Alger says the JMU Block Party will be making a return to downtown Harrisonburg this year with all students invited to attend.

Dr. David Bushman, president of Bridgewater College, says adding to this year’s events, the Screaming Eagles Marching Band will be making a return to the Bridgewater football games.

“So we’re back in person our football team shows up tomorrow, we already have RA’s, we have peer mentors on campus, we will be fully in person this year,” Bushman said.

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