Allegheny College Opens Campus to Students After Extensive Preparations for COVID-19 Public Health Crisis

Encouraging Results of Student Compliance Enable Opening Quarantine to be Lifted

Allegheny College, one of the nation’s oldest and most innovative four-year colleges where multidisciplinary learning breaks the conventional mold, has taken extensive and creative steps to maximize learning during the current pandemic. Aiming to keep students, faculty, staff and its local Pennsylvania community as safe as possible from the spread of COVID-19, the college welcomed more than 1,400 students and implemented mandatory COVID-19 testing through a staggered return-to-campus. The fall semester began Aug. 31.

With swift protocols implemented for testing, face coverings and physical isolation during its first four weeks, the college has been holding the COVID-19 infection rate to less than 1 percent at any given time, with an average of less than 0.5 percent of the campus population testing positive most days.

The physical and emotional health and safety of both the campus and local Meadville communities has been the top priority of Allegheny College President Hilary Link, Ph.D., and the 12 campus-wide implementation groups of administrators, staff, faculty and students she led during months of research and planning.

President Link’s first order of business was revamping the semester schedule to include an integrated slate of on-campus classes, remote learning and a hybrid of the two. The centerpiece of the academic calendar is a new intensive winter module that allows students to blend multiple academic interests and do a deep dive into a subject they might not otherwise have a chance to study; this three-week personalized module has the same number of credit hours and credits as a regular full-semester course.

Key to the opening has been a comprehensive clean-and-prevention agenda along with the formation of the on-campus Allegheny College Health Agency (ACHA), which President Link established during her first year as the college’s president, to fill the gap in clinical and public health services in Crawford County.

“As a campus in a small rural setting with limited exposure to COVID-19, it had always been our goal to fully reopen for on-campus living and learning accompanied by and subject to ongoing guidance from our own Allegheny College Health Agency, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and other state and national resources, which have helped us establish best-in-class protocols for safety and wellness,” said President Link.

A Unique Semester Schedule

“Our planning was driven by my requirement that we not just ‘adapt’ to COVID-19 protocols but use this moment as an opportunity to be creative,” explained President Link. “Our new academic schedule introduces fresh multidisciplinary learning and teaching opportunities while at the same time reducing risk, to the extent possible, during the peak cold and flu season [mid-November through early February].”

To minimize travel on and off campus, Allegheny College’s fall semester consists of 12 weeks of on-campus instruction, without a fall break, ending Nov. 20. Most students will then leave campus. The semester will resume for everyone on Nov. 23 with strategically planned remote instruction through Dec. 4, followed by final exams ending Dec. 11. Thanksgiving Break will be Nov. 25–29. A shortened 12-week on-campus component from Feb. 22 to May 17 is preceded by the winter intensive module in January 2021.

For those students who cannot or choose not to be in the classroom, Allegheny College implemented flexible course delivery to facilitate rotating between in-the-classroom and synchronous-remote attendance. In many cases sessions also are recorded for asynchronous use, allowing students to attend at their convenience.

Prevention and Precaution

The ACHA is overseeing a comprehensive healthcare system on campus that includes testing, contact tracing and mitigation strategies. Students who test positive for COVID-19 are isolated off campus and provided with extensive health checks, mental health checks, and academic and social support.

“While we recognize that COVID creates challenges and anxiety for many students and their families, as well as for our employees, we’re very proud that our students are adjusting and committed to taking responsibility for their own health to help keep the Allegheny College campus and surrounding community as safe as possible,” said President Link.

As recommendations related to disease mitigation are ever-changing, the college’s policies and plans for reopening and keeping the campus community safe will be updated as new information becomes available.