Community Update: July 30, 2020

A message from President Harring to the Muhlenberg College community Thursday, July 30, 2020

To the Muhlenberg Community,

 

Over the past several months our community has worked tirelessly to adapt to the ever changing conditions presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud of the strength of character our students, staff and faculty have shown during this time. Our priority in making decisions for the fall semester continues to be the health and safety of all members of our College community. Our planning has continually balanced the earnest desire of our students and families to responsibly return to campus with the uncontrollable conditions of COVID-19 that affect us all.

 

Our initial plan for the fall semester assumed a full return to campus. In my July 21 community message, I shared that the College was reviewing the viability of our plan in light of the significant surges in the virus across the country and the increases in infection rates among the college age population. The surge in cases in certain regions of our country has had an impact on our ability to open safely with a full population of students. Testing capacity has become unpredictable and limited, particularly for asymptomatic testing as we move into the early fall. 

 

Decision for the Fall Semester

As a result of this changing landscape, the College made the decision to reduce the number of students on campus to allow us to fully implement our health and safety protocols. Therefore, we will have first-year students and a limited number of approved upperclass students on campus in the fall. Each student will have a single room and share a bathroom with only 2-3 other students. First-year students will have primarily online courses with some in-person instruction and small group co-curricular activities. All upperclass students will take their courses remotely whether on or off campus. All students will have remote access to academic support services, co-curricular activities, health and counseling services, the career center and other student support.

 

I realize that this is incredibly disappointing news. This difficult decision was made based on considerable evidence that indicates this is the best course of action for our community at this time.


The First Year Experience

The first year at Muhlenberg is a critical time for our students. Our curriculum, orientation, advising and support services are designed to support a successful transition to academic work, campus life and community.


First-year students and families will hear from Dean Gulati soon with more detailed information about plans for their fall semester at ‘Berg. While it will most certainly be different, we are fully confident in our ability to work with our first-year students, upper class peer mentors and our faculty and staff to offer a robust and memorable first year experience this fall.


A few first year students have already confirmed their need to stay home and take their courses remotely. Any first-year student who cannot come to campus for health or personal reasons can take their courses remotely and will be fully supported by the College. Any first-year student who would like to change their plans and study remotely this semester may do so by completing this form. All other first year students will receive their housing assignments for the fall semester next week. As we are moving to single rooms, we will attempt to place students with specific roommate requests near one another wherever we can in that process.


Upperclass Student Application Process

Upperclass students can review the criteria here that the College will use in evaluating applications to live on or to have access to campus. These criteria were informed by our experience from the spring semester, our knowledge of some of the significant personal hardships that directly impact students' academic success, and a prioritization of senior academic work that cannot be completed without access to college facilities.


If you believe you meet the criteria above and want to apply for permission to live on campus or if you are an off-campus or commuter student who needs access to campus, you must complete this form by August 5. Approvals will be finalized no later than Tuesday, August 11. Students who choose to sign leases locally will still take courses online and will not have access to campus buildings unless approved through this application process.


Academic Program

Courses will be remote with only first-year students having some in-person instruction and campus activities across the semester. Muhlenberg faculty are passionate teachers who care deeply about their students. Muhlenberg has one of the strongest digital learning teams of any liberal arts college in the nation, one that has served as a model for other institutions. This summer our faculty participated in intensive digital learning workshops to help them develop and teach courses that emphasize student engagement, active learning, and student-faculty relationships—characteristics of the Muhlenberg experience. These workshops along with investments in increased technology serve as the foundation for a Fall curriculum built from a liberal arts perspective, allowing us to offer online courses that reflect the high level of academic quality and sense of community for which the College is known.


Tuition, Financial Aid, and Billing

In response to the challenging economic situation that many families are experiencing during this time, we are announcing changes in the cost of attendance for the 2020-2021 academic year. We will roll back the previously announced tuition increase. The rate will remain the same as the 2019-2020 academic year. Students living off campus will not pay a student activities fee.


All students in on-campus housing this fall will be charged the same room rate (the standard double room rate), although all rooms will be singles. Students will not pay a premium this fall for single rooms or for residential placements more expensive than their original preferences. Room and board for on-campus students will be reduced given the two-week period after Thanksgiving when they will no longer be in residence.


The Office of Financial Aid is currently preparing financial aid offers. To comply with federal and state financial aid regulations, the new financial aid offers will reflect students’ fall housing status for the entire 2020-2021 academic year. If Muhlenberg is able to bring more students back to campus for the Spring 2021 semester, financial aid will be adjusted in January 2021. In addition, changes to a student’s fall housing status will require a revision to the financial aid offer (including first-years who choose to study remotely or returning students granted permission to live on-campus).


Financial Aid awards for 2020-2021 will be posted by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, August 5, on Muhlenberg’s financial aid portal.


The fall semester invoices will be mailed on Wednesday, August 12, and due on Friday, August 21, 2020. They will also be available online through students’ Capstone accounts. Families concerned about making timely payments may contact Student Accounts at businessoffice@muhlenberg.edu or 484-664-3150 to discuss their individual circumstances.

 

Academic Calendar

The academic calendar for the 2020-2021 year is now available on our website. Our Fall semester and Winter term dates remain unchanged from my previous message. The Spring semester will begin on February 8 and run through May 14. As with the fall, we will not have a break. Final exams will be held on May 17-21. Because of the addition of the winter term, it was necessary to move our Commencement ceremony to Monday, May 24. Senior activities will be held during the weekend before Commencement.


Spring 2021

We are hopeful that our experience in the Fall semester will prepare us for all students to return to campus in the spring. If conditions are still not favorable for a full return to campus, we will prioritize an on-campus experience for our seniors.


I am grateful to the entire Muhlenberg community—students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni and friends of the College—for your support, patience, and generosity of spirit during this most difficult time. Our community is one that comes together in crisis and in celebration. We care deeply for one another through good times and bad times and will continue to do so. Muhlenberg is special because of our people. Thank you for being a part of our remarkable community.

 

Sincerely,

Kathleen E. Harring
President