Area colleges, including Lake Michigan College and Southwestern Michigan College, are preparing for the start of a new semester while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lake Michigan College and Southwestern Michigan College campuses won’t look like they did this time last year when students return for instruction on Sept. 8.

Both have seen a dip in enrollment and have instituted safeguards in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these precautions include off-campus instruction and limiting the use of certain facilities.

LMC President Trevor Kubatzke said the majority of LMC’s classes – among all campuses – will be done remotely.

However, it’s the courses that require hands-on instruction – for skilled trades, physical science and music – that will return to campus in September.

“We are keeping all class sizes down to provide six feet of distance,” Kubatzke said Friday. “Masks will be worn at all times in the buildings. Every person who comes onto campus will do health screenings.”

LMC announced its decision for this format in early July with the assumption that the fall semester wouldn’t be shut down completely by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

SMC moved to Phase 3 of its Campus Reopening Plan this weekend in preparation for the fall semester.

Offices on both SMC campuses, in Dowagiac and Niles, will be open to students, employees and the public during regular business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., starting Monday.

Like LMC, masks are required on both of SMC’s campuses. COVID-19 protocols, such as social distancing and sanitizing, remain in effect. All students, faculty and staff will check in daily with a symptom-screening app.

SMC residential students will begin moving into Jerdon, White and McKenzie halls in phases between Sunday and Sept. 4, during Welcome Week.

The lobby and game room of the Student Activity Center will be available to those with a valid college ID. Zollar Café will be open for limited service starting the first day of classes.

The fitness center, pools, gymnasium, fitness studio and locker rooms at SMC will remain closed until further notice.

LMC’s residence halls will open at about 65 percent capacity. Kubatzke said all two-person suites are empty in case any students need an isolation room.

“Everyone coming onto campus to stay will be screened and tested,” Kubatzke said. “Every resident will have a COVID test before coming onto campus. All of our athletes will be tested as well.”

Enrollment at a glance

Mike O’Brien, vice president of enrollment and student development at SMC, said he considered enrollment numbers a “fluid situation” as students are registering every day.

SMC registration has been somewhat “backloaded” this year, as families have to consider different health and economic realities, O’Brien said.

SMC’s last orientation session was Friday, when 62 students reserved a visit to campus and to register.

O’Brien said they plan to add students, both in-person and by remote appointment, until the start of classes start Sept. 8.

“We’ll have a true idea of final numbers a week later, after the last day to drop and add,” he wrote in an email to The Herald-Palladium. “The college built a conservative budget for this next academic year. We will be down versus 2019 in both student headcount and contact hours, but fully expect to make, or even slightly beat, our budgeted enrollment without implementing any personnel furloughs or layoffs.”

Kubatzke said LMC, like other colleges, is anticipating a decrease in enrollment once the dust settles.

“We’ve seen a drop in enrollment, but we’ve made up a lot of ground in the last month from students who are just now registering,” Kubatzke said.

He said LMC is 12 percent behind in its enrollment numbers, compared to the previous fall semester.

“We know that it’s a tough time for students to figure out what to do,” Kubatzke said. “We implemented a seven-week session in October. We have another opportunity for them to take classes in compressed terms. It is still an opportunity for them to get credits if right now they are not ready to go back.”

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