The spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to take its toll on higher education, as Washington State University announced Wednesday that it would be delaying all graduation ceremonies systemwide.
WSU Vancouver has not rescheduled its ceremony yet, but students can participate in a virtual ceremony on May 9, according to the university. University spokeswoman Brenda Alling, however, said the move is a painful one.
“So many of our students are first-generation students,” she said. “It’s such a celebration, and we don’t want to go online.”
The cancellation of graduation is just one of the many changes area colleges and universities are making because of COVID-19. WSU Vancouver closed campus entirely effective Wednesday, and Clark College has delayed the start of its spring term to April 20.
Clark College spokeswoman Kelly Love said the college should still be able to finish its spring quarter on time. The college has not made a decision about its graduation ceremony yet.
For now, Clark College will continue with lab coursework in programs like mechatronics or auto mechanics that rely on face-to-face instruction for accreditation, although with proper social distancing measures in place to protect students, Love said.
WSU Vancouver, meanwhile, started its online classes on Monday, the first day of term following spring break. Its also moved all of its lab classes online following Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, which will run through April 6.
“Sometimes the professor will record themselves,” Alling said. “They’re being very creative.”
Until campus reopens on or after April 6, however, only essential staff will have access to buildings, she said. Instructors cannot access their classrooms, and limited resources will be available for students. Loaner laptops will be available for rent at set times, and the Cougar Food Pantry will operate on a limited schedule.
Clark College has also pared down its on-campus staff to a “bare bones skeletal staff,” Love said, with about 10 percent of the college’s 400 staff members still going to work. That will be trimmed down even further as the college prepares for its move to online education.
“We’re really doing this whole rapid reinvention of how we do education,” Love said. “We’re making good headway.”
Students who are already enrolled to attend classes in the spring quarter at Clark College will already see their online classes transition online with the start of the spring quarter. About 5,500 students are enrolled to continue their education, down from 7,300 in the winter quarter. Drops in enrollment could hurt college funding and lead to the elimination of class sections, in turn limiting available work for college faculty.
But Love wasn’t sounding the alarm on declining enrollment yet, noting final enrollment numbers won’t be reported until the 10th day of the term. Students still have time to sign up for classes and pay their tuition.
“It’s possible we’ll have some students who choose not to take online or remote courses,” she said. “They should make the presumption that classes are moving online or remote unless we contact them.”