"College campuses in this country are densely packed environments, and for most of the time, that's a wonderful thing," Bowdoin College President Clayton Rose told CNBC on Thursday. "But when you've got a public health crisis, and a highly contagious virus like the one we're dealing with now, having that kind of density is really problematic."
Instead, the private liberal arts college in Brunswick, Maine, is primarily having first-year and transfer students on campus this fall. Those whose home situations make online classes unfeasible also will be there, as will student residential advisors and a small group of seniors working on honors projects, Rose said.
"Our goal is to learn as much as we can in the fall with the group that we're going to have about how to safely run our campus, and then, if we do that properly, which is my expectation, and the world cooperates a little bit with us, then we will bring our seniors, juniors and sophomores back in the spring," Rose said on "The Exchange."
Bowdoin's strategy of welcoming some students back to campus comes as schools at all levels seek to devise plans for fall classes, after the coronavirus outbreak forced many to pivot to remote instruction in March.
Nearly 65% of colleges are planning for in-person classes this fall, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is tracking the decisions of more than 1,000 schools. Many say they will be limiting class size and doing away with large lectures, for example.
Some schools such as the University of Notre Dame intend to move up the start of their fall semester in order to complete it by Thanksgiving, in hopes of getting ahead of an end-of-year resurgence of Covid-19 that some experts predict may occur. The California State University system, made up of 23 campuses, intends on having a mostly virtual fall.
At Bowdoin, which has roughly 1,800 students, "nearly all" classes will still be online, Rose wrote in a letter to the college's community this week. Exceptions include first-year writing seminars, many of which will be taught in person or "have in-person components," he wrote.
Other health protocols will be in place on campus, such as good hygiene practices, symptom checks and required face coverings indoors and "most of the time outdoors," Rose said.
"We've also learned through the reopening of America in the last five or six weeks that following those practices in a rigorous way for anybody, college students and everybody else, is really hard to do. And we've seen the consequences of that," Rose said, an apparent reference to the increasing coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across the U.S.
For that reason, everyone on campus at Bowdoin will be tested for Covid-19 twice per week, Rose said. A contact-tracing program also will be in place.
"This allows us one or two turns of testing individuals to capture that virus early and then to figure out where we might of had a break down in those practices through contact tracing to be able to fix the systems we've got in place during the fall," Rose said.
And by improving them, Rose said, Bowdoin hopes to be "in a better position to bring back a larger number of students in the spring and, ultimately, get to the full number."