As Close to Traditional as Possible, in a Culture of Caring

Reopening Columbia College in August

July 1, 2020 Update

After extensive research and collaborative planning, Columbia College will open for in-person classes in August. Two principles guide our decision: (1) the hope and expectation of our students that the College would do all within its power to offer academic classes and social and professional development activities in a format and structure as close to a traditional year as possible and (2) the need for the College’s unique “Culture of Caring” to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of all members of our campus community remains our highest priority. In other words, the decision to reopen combined the concepts of structure (the way we reopen) and implementation (how we respect one another as a community).

This update will focus on the rationale for the decision to reopen and provide the overarching structure for when students return. By July 22, 2020, the College will provide a comprehensive list of all policies, procedures, rules and regulations associated with reopening on August 10, 2020 when the first group of student leaders and later student athletes arrive on campus. As has been the case since we began planning for reopening in August, should state or federal policies prevent colleges from opening in-person, or compel colleges to move to remote learning during the semester, we have a plan to pivot to remote learning promptly and effectively.


The greatest strength of a liberal arts college is small classes taught by talented faculty. Class discussions and sharing of perspectives in an affirming environment will be maintained. Because 75% of our classes have 20 or fewer students and no class has more than 30, we are able to have in-person teaching. All classrooms will be reconfigured to incorporate 6-foot social distancing and class hours are staggered to allow cleaning between each class. Likewise, all student gathering spaces are being adapted to ensure social distancing for clubs and activities, thereby providing a rich array of options for the social and professional aspect of college life.

Residence halls will be structured with double occupancy, unless a student has an approved single. If you have special circumstances that you believe require accommodations in the residence halls, please contact Ms. Kristin Brooks, Director of Student Success as soon as possible. The highest standard percentage for quarantine is 5%. We anticipate 300 students, requiring 15 beds. We have set aside a floor with 16 beds in single rooms. Plus, we will deep clean a house across from campus with four bedrooms for students who are ill with COVID-19. Plus, we have a contract with a home health company to provide direct nursing care for these students. The Dining Hall will provide seating using social distancing and grab-and-go items. The Athletics Department is working diligently to prepare for team practice and competition, seeking to design ways for a modest number of spectators.

The College will be utilizing the most effective combination of preventive measures, symptom detecting, temperature taking, testing and contact tracing to limit and control this virulent virus. In all cases and situations, our focus is to create a learning environment and social interaction as close to the traditional operation of Columbia College for 166 years as possible, with the health, safety and wellbeing of our campus community remaining our highest priority.


Since our founding, Columbia College has fostered a “Culture of Caring.” There is a special sense of community and bond of mutual respect among students, faculty and staff. We use the term “family” to describe the fondness we feel toward one another and the affirmation students experience in the classroom and on the campus. This culture of caring is essential for our structure to work. Students will be required to wear face masks/coverings to protect themselves, faculty, staff, and other students. This practice also protects students so that when they do go home to visit family, they will reduce the risk of infecting their parents and grandparents.

While we plan on a fulfilling social life and allowing students to visit one another in their various residence halls, we will restrict the number of students to three in a residence hall room at one time. Moreover, visitors to campus will be limited and overnight guests will not be allowed until the pandemic is under control or a vaccine has been made available. We are confident that our students will rise to the challenge and be respectful and supportive of one another, as well as the faculty and staff.

Because the culture of caring is so important and because COVID-19 is so virulent, violation of the rules and regulations will be addressed differently from typical judicial matters. Failure to adhere to the rules and regulations means the student doesn’t value or understand the Columbia College culture of caring. After the first violation, a student will be placed on probation. The second violation will result in suspension from the College for the remainder of the semester the violation occurred.

To confirm commitment to the new structure and new rules and regulations, all members of the campus community will sign a pledge. This pledge will be shared with students’ families so that everyone understands the opportunities and expectations of in-person education on the Columbia College campus. Attached is the pledge.

One final observation. Surveys of high school graduates and returning college students have indicated a potential of students taking a year off due to the uncertainty of COVID-19. We trust the following letter from the College’s Board of Trustees Chair, Toby Goodlett, will put in perspective the unique advantages of enrolling this Fall, and we encourage our students and their families to read and discuss it. We look forward to a unique year, but one as close to traditional as possible in a culture of caring.

Letter from College Board Chair, Toby Goodlett

Advice to College Students for the Fall

As Chair of the Columbia College Board of Trustees, parent of twin college freshmen, and a business professional, I’ve been immersed in COVID-19 from three different, but related perspectives – policy, parenting and business. As a believer in “family first,” my most important role is that of a dad.

Driving each twin home when their out-of-state colleges closed was certainly a sad time and reinforced the importance of the social aspect of college. I observed firsthand the frustration our twins experienced shifting from in-person to online instruction. Our daughter is thinking of majoring in art, so the impact was significant.

For my own children as well as the students of Columbia College, the uncertainty about reopening colleges in the fall is the key issue. Drawing insight from my three roles, I offer this advice to my twins and to all college students.

Don’t take a gap year! Here are four reasons why you should return to college in the fall.

First, your job opportunities will be limited. With unemployment expected to exceed 20 percent, there will be fewer jobs available to tide you over. While my wife and I love our twins, we feel sitting at home is as unacceptable to us as it is unenjoyable to them.

Second, postponing a year at college impacts your career and lifelong earnings. While starting salaries are not high, the year lost impacts all your career including one fewer year at your peak earning status. And candidly, it’s tougher to get back in the rhythm and rigor of higher education after a year away.

Third, this year could be the most valuable of your college career. When Columbia College President Dr. Peter Mitchell announced that the College will reopen with in-person classes, he encouraged students to return “because each student will be learning how to navigate the post-COVID-19 new normal in an incredibly supportive and affirming environment.”

COVID-19 will certainly change all aspects of life — including college. The new normal will be a blend of in-person and online, with restrictions like masks and social distancing. In short, massive disruption and change in the way you learn and live will occur. Yet you will have the opportunity to develop resiliency, determination, and grit — all with the support of faculty and staff dedicated to helping you succeed.

As a trustee, I was updated frequently on how quickly — and based on student comments, how effectively — the Columbia College faculty pivoted to remote learning. We, like most colleges and universities, are investing significant resources in faculty development and technology to enable the College to pivot between in-person and online this year.

The ability to pivot, whether from in learning or in life, will be an essential skill. There will be jobs created in the next four years that we can’t imagine. Mastering the pivot will be a key to your success during and after college.

Finally, embrace online learning. From my business role, I know that if you don’t like online learning, you’d be wise to master that skillset. At most businesses — from auto repair shops to corporations — face-to-face training is now the exception. Almost all training and professional development is done digitally with video modules. Learning remotely is an advantage long-term, despite being frustrating short term.

The advice I gave to my twins holds true for all college students: Stay the course, approach this year as an incredible time to live and learn, and be creative in the ways you interact socially while adhering to the restrictions associated with COVID-19. Be sure to seek opportunities in the midst of adversity. And most of all, don’t forget to pivot.