It was a hopeful first week for students coming back to UW-La Crosse for the fall semester.
UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow says students and staff alike were excited to be back on campus after closing in March when the pandemic first began. Gow says overall enrollment is down about 1 percent because some first-year students decided to wait to attend until a COVID-19 vaccine was available, but the retention rate of last year’s students showed optimism.
“Somewhat surprisingly, the number is 86 percent, which is a little above what it had been,” Gow said. “The students are saying we really want to be back at UWL, and we will do our part, so that is very good to see.”
The university is also watching movement on other midwest campuses. Winona State University is currently under a self-imposed, 14-day campus quarantine. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is moving all classes online and quarantining students in two of its largest dorms as it deals with rising cases of COVID-19.
“We are certainly keeping an eye on the situation,” Gow said. “Winona State and at Madison started a week before we did, so we may be learning somethings from them. I think the big thing is, unfortunately, students off campus are getting together in groups, and that is something we’ve been trying to discourage. It is a big challenge because young people sometimes think they are not going to be susceptible to the virus, or that it will not be a big deal for them. We have to educate them otherwise.”
There is regular testing for students who live on campus. The entire Wentz Residence Hall is available for quarantine if necessary. Gow says there are also some single rooms with bathrooms available, and the university can use hotel space in La Crosse.
All 36 campus buildings have also been modified due to COVID-19.
Classrooms will be equipped with touchless hand sanitizer stations, and offices will be equipped with plexiglass barriers. Floor stickers and furniture decals will remind students and employees to keep their distance. Additionally, the HVAC systems have been checked to ensure they are producing the necessary airflow.
About 64 percent of courses are hybrid or in-person. The rest are fully online.