Six months after shutting down face-to-face classes because of the coronavirus pandemic, Miami Dade College announced Monday that students taking blended courses will return to campus on a limited basis on Sept. 28.
“The safety and health of the College family remain our top priority,” said MDC’s Interim College President Rolando Montoya in a message to students. “We are now moving toward an anticipated, phased return to campus on September 28 due to the improving COVID conditions.”
Michael Cruz, who serves as North Campus Student Government Association President, fears the College will be a breeding ground for COVID-19 cases once it reopens. He believes MDC should have waited for a vaccine to exist before letting students back on campus.
“I believe the coronavirus is a serious issue. It’s nothing that can be downplayed and nothing like that has come [in] our lifetime as college students,” Cruz said. “We need to be very smart about the way we handle this because, above all, the safety of the students is the most important factor.”
The College’s decision to move to Phase 2 comes on the heels of Miami-Dade County reporting a positivity rate of less than 10 percent for the past two weeks, according to the Florida Department of Health. They are also trending downward of five percent, having a positivity rate under that number for the past four days.
The return comes at a pivotal time for MDC. With fall enrollment down 14 percent compared to the same time last year, the College has acknowledged that each percentage point equals 1.4 million in funding. That could translate to a $19.6 million loss for MDC.
According to a survey conducted by MDC of 2,426 students not taking classes this fall, more than 72 percent said they are not registering because they prefer in-person instruction.
With a 12-week mini-term starting on Sept. 28 and a second eight-week mini-term starting on Oct. 26, MDC is primed to target those students.
The College has ramped up enrollment efforts in recent weeks by utilizing virtual advisement rooms to assist students with registering. They have also done aggressive marketing campaigns on the College’s social media pages. Some students were offered free classes for registering for a certain amount of credits.
Return To Campus
Students who signed up for MDC Online classes or remote learning will not be required to return on campus, but those that are registered for blended courses will return in a limited face-to-face capacity at the end of the month.
Classes will be separated into small cohorts that will be scheduled to attend class on campus on different days. When one group is attending class in person, the others tune in remotely.
However, some students who have multiple classes could be scheduled to attend the campus on various days, increasing their chance of infection.
Anyone who signed up for blended courses but doesn’t want to return to campus can ask their advisors to change their schedule to a remote or online modality, college officials said.
Matt Jimenez, a sophomore at the Eduardo J. Padrón Campus Honors College, worries that his return to campus will put his immunocompromised father and his bedridden 93-year-old grandmother at risk.
He wrote an email on Thursday—the day before the executive committee met to discuss the reopening of the College—asking MDC continue remote learning throughout the semester.
“I urge Miami Dade College to do its part in keeping our community safe by not reopening this fall,” he said in the email.
Executive Vice President and Provost Lenore Rodicio advised Jimenez to discuss his situation with Magda Castineyra, the Honors College Director at Padrón Campus, and switch to online or remote classes.
Visitors who enter campus are required to wear a mask, will be administered a temperature check and be asked whether they’ve had any coronavirus-related symptoms or traveled anywhere in the last 14 days. Rooms will be limited to 10-15 students and cleaned in between classes and at the end of the day and hundreds of sanitation areas have been set up around the College.
If a student in an in-person class is infected, that class will switch to a remote modality. The classroom and any areas the infected person made contact with will be closed and sanitized, according to Director of Communications Juan Mendieta.
Officials said MDC will not send a collegewide alert if a student or faculty member gets infected. Only those who come in contact with an infected person will be notified via email or verbally by their professor.
The College also said it will not have a dashboard tallying the number of positive COVID-19 cases on campus, like Florida International University and the University of Miami, because they don’t have on-campus housing. However, Human Resources and the Office of Emergency Management will keep track of that number, and students can request that information from the Dean of Students Office.
Throughout the process, the United Faculty of Miami Dade College has been vocal about remaining fully online this semester. They wrote a strongly worded letter to administrators in July saying it’s “impossible” to implement social distancing, sanitize classrooms and ensure adequate ventilation if students return, calling the move unsafe and ill-advised.
Elizabeth Ramsay, president of the UFMDC, believes the College’s message to students has lacked clarity.
“Students don’t know when they are required to come to the campus,” Ramsay said. “I heard from students who are living outside of Miami-Dade County who won’t be able to come to the campus and also from people who themselves have underlying conditions that cause them to be vulnerable, or who have members of their household with underlying conditions.”
To prepare for the transition, professors received an email last week encouraging them to sign up for on-campus visits to see how classrooms have been set up to provide social distancing. They have also been encouraged to sign up for a webinar on the telepresence modality that will be used to communicate with students in the classroom and remotely.
Ramsay says that the telepresence modality works well for lecturing, but makes it difficult to hold interactive discussions with students.
“When you have any kind of interactive activity in the classroom where students are contributing to discussion and learning activities, it makes it almost impossible for a single instructor to facilitate both face to face and online activity simultaneously,” she said.
In addition to classrooms, several integral College areas will reopen according to the College’s Pandemic Outbreak Recovery Plan. They include:
- Libraries, computer courtyards and testing centers
- Student services areas like Advisement, Financial Aid, the Bursars’ Office and Registration will resume operations but must adhere to social distancing and facial covering mandates.
- Dining services, cafes, and bookstores can reopen with restricted interior seating areas.
- Exterior athletic/fitness and aquatic centers can resume outside operations. Internal fitness spaces will remain closed unless a modified Phase 2 is approved by the College President or District Incident Commander.
Between March and July, MDC spent more than $1.9 million to move classes online and allow essential employees and select students whose classes couldn’t be replicated online like law enforcement, veterinary technology and health sciences back on campus, according to fee invoices obtained by The Reporter.
Those figures include:
- $1,326,442 to loan laptops and devices to students and staff.
- $70,825 to hire biohazard companies to conduct deep cleanings at Medical Campus.
- $120,049 to shift testing services online.
- $414,013 for campus-related purchases like sanitizing classrooms and facilities, hiring instructional designers to move curriculum online and conducting training for professors and staff.
When MDC reopens, those figures will continue to escalate. They will need to purchase additional masks for those coming onto campus. Plastic sneeze guards have already been installed throughout the College in student service areas like Advisement and the New Student Center to minimize contact.
So far, the College has used its operational funds, money from the MDC Foundation, reserves and CARES Act funding to pay for costs.
In March, MDC filed an insurance claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to recoup some of the expenses. The College hopes the claim will be processed in two years, but acknowledged claims like that typically extend well beyond that time frame.
Anthony Valenzuela, president of the Kendall Campus SGA, said students are excited to come back to campus. A survey has been created and will be disseminated by professors to gauge how students feel about the return to campus.
“I really don’t think Miami Dade College could have done it a better way,” Valenzuela said. “They’re taking their time, they’re speaking to the right people and to the professionals, and they’re making this decision with safety being the number one priority.”