Virginia State University will reopen its campus for the spring 2021 semester and join the majority of colleges in the commonwealth that have opened campus and transitioned to a mostly online curriculum.
A historically Black university located in Ettrick near Petersburg, VSU was one of three colleges in the commonwealth to keep its campus closed for the entire fall semester because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Black community has been hit hard by the pandemic, and school President Makola Abdullah said VSU was at a heightened risk.
While most colleges in the state have reopened their campuses, many classes are now online, and not all students have returned.
VSU’s curriculum will be similar to that of other schools, Abdullah said, with some classes taking place in person, some online and some a combination of the two.
VSU will have a testing procedure and prevention plan in place. The school purchased face shields and masks and installed plexiglass dividers and distancing stickers on the floors in hopes of opening for the fall 2020 semester. The decision to remain closed was made in late August.
“It’s just difficult,” Abdullah said of the decision-making process. “All of it’s difficult.
“There’s no guarantee you won’t have an outbreak. You have to prepare like you will have an outbreak.”
Colleges have learned that on-campus activity isn’t a big driver of virus transmission, Abdullah said. When James Madison University closed its campus in September, it blamed off-campus gatherings. Statewide, few faculty and staff have become infected, while the number of students infected ranges anywhere from a handful to more than 1,500.
After the decision was made to close campus, hundreds of VSU students withdrew. The school reported an enrollment drop of 21% to 3,610, the second biggest decline in the state. The lost room and board revenue cost the school between $10 million and $12 million, Abdullah said. The school’s on-campus residences have the capacity for 2,900 students.
Even with students back on campus, dorms likely won’t be full. VSU intended to house just 2,200 students this fall in order to put more distance between them. The university charges $11,500 per year for students to live on campus, and tuition is $9,000 annually for in-state students.
Despite the financial challenge, VSU has avoided layoffs.