Post-secondary schools across Alberta are unveiling plans for students for the 2020-2021 school year.
The University of Lethbridge announcing Tuesday it plans to offer primarily online courses, “In coming to this conclusion, the safety of our students, faculty and staff has been and will continue to be our top priority,” Dr. Mike Mahon, University president and vice-chancellor, said in a statement.
“We must ensure we are maintaining a safe environment consistent with Alberta’s public safety guidelines and in line with public health directives.
“The welfare of our students, faculty and staff as they learn, teach and work is of the utmost importance.”
Mahon said the decision needed to be made now so there’s enough time to create the online courses and give faculty a few months to prepare for the new online delivery model.
The U of L’s decision will allow for some in-person learning activities such as labs, studio sessions, and practicums — but the primary mode of course delivery will be through an online model.
The university said it would also like to see graduate student research activities resume on campus, subject to public health guidelines.
Several comments from students on social media show concern over the decision.
Kianna Turner posted on the U of L Facebook page, “If students prefer to learn online they would probably have signed up for an online program to begin with. Students who sign up for in-person classes generally learn best that way and many, like myself, find online classes unmotivating and frustrating.”
However, Amy Elizabeth Mendenhall posted, “Ten thousand people on campus. We all use the same classrooms, same cafeterias and same washrooms. As a student at the university, I’m thankful they put the health and safety of myself and my classmates first in their decision.
“We can do this.”
There are several unanswered questions for students, but the U of L said it will release more information on June 15.
Mahon said he realizes the expectation has changed for all institutions and students around the world, but it shouldn’t dampen the excitement of the fall semester.
“A sense of normalcy will eventually return and until that time, we will continue to offer the robust, high-quality learning experience for which the University of Lethbridge is known.”
Economically, Lethbridge could see an impact with fewer students moving to the city for university.
Fall 2019 enrolment at the university was 8,956 students — at a 2.2 per cent increase from the previous year, it was record enrolment for the U of L.
The U of L said 71 per cent of Lethbridge campus students come from outside the region.
Trevor Lewington with Economic Development Lethbridge said the lack of students this fall could mean a big blow to the local economy.
“There’s the potential risk of up to 6,000 people not coming back to the city, and those students, as you might imagine, spend money on groceries and going out to restaurants and bars, also renting private accommodations,” he said.
The U of L is looking at its options to have students come to campus on a limited basis for things like small group meetings or labs, but ideally, most learning will be done online.
“We are looking at turning some of our residences more like into hotel spaces, so that students could come to campus for a night or two in a week,” Mahon said.