Yakima Valley College and Heritage University students can expect to continue learning remotely this fall, with a handful of exceptions.

At YVC, students in programs like nursing, vet technician and phlebotomy that require hands-on instruction will be back on campus as needed, said college President Linda Kaminski.

For Heritage students, some labs, clinical practice, one-to-one tutoring and orientation activities will be held in person, said President Andrew Sund.

Each college anticipates stringent health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, from surveys before entering and leaving campus to temperature checks, masks and social distancing.

But those instances will be minimal, both presidents said.

“The reality is, there will be a significant amount of remote learning,” Sund said.

Spring changes

Yakima Valley College students were in the midst of winter finals in March when Gov. Jay Inslee announced statewide closures of all public and private schools in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, Kaminski said. After finals, the college had a week of spring break to reformat classes from face-to-face to online.

Full-time enrollment in spring quarter was down roughly 10%, according to numbers provided by Kaminski.

A student survey halfway through the quarter revealed that 88% of students said the remote learning experience was positive and that they felt connected to faculty. Kaminski said the feedback was a pleasant surprise, and the college is continuing to improve the experience to reach the remaining 12%.

Planning for the fall

With the positive feedback on remote learning and the status of the community in mind, Kaminski decided to continue online instruction for summer and fall, she said.

“We felt that until we get into the next phase, we really cannot bring classes face-to-face the way they used to be. So a lot of it has to do with where we are as a community,” she said.

Yakima County is moving slowly through the state’s four-part coronavirus reopening plan. It reached Phase 1.5 just last week because of high rates of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Online learning technology and support are being provided to students at YVC.

A small portion of the student body has returned to campus successfully, Kaminski said, following strict public health procedures, including social distancing.

Sund, president of Heritage, a private college in Toppenish, said the school has similar plans for the fall. He said a key concern is making sure new students feel welcome, so the college is hoping to have some orientation activities in person if the Yakima Health District agrees that the school’s plans are safe.

Sund said social distancing might be easier for Heritage than many other higher education institutions, since class sizes are normally around 12 students and can easily be split in two.

“Our mission is to serve the higher education needs of the population of our Valley. We really want to work with everyone to offer the best possible options this fall that will allow students to feel that they belong to a higher education institution … and follow protocol so we can move and see that this is a crisis that’s in our past at some point,” said Sund. “It’s finding the right balance, which is really hard.”

Enrollment remains steady

Despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19, both presidents remained optimistic about enrollment and funding.

Kaminski said so far this summer quarter, there are 260 fewer students than last year. But she said the dip is temporary, as career and college readiness programs have not started for the summer, and students taught on contract have not yet been accounted for.

In arts and sciences alone, she said, there are 172 more full-time summer students this year than last. With that in mind, Kaminski said she expects to end the summer with the same or higher enrollment than last summer.

“We’re optimistic. It’s still too early to call for fall. We haven’t started enrolling for fall. But if spring and summer are indicators, we’re hoping that fall will also be a good one for enrollment,” she said.

At Heritage, summer term is usually quiet, with just about 100 students taking a course each year. But enrollment so far for the fall appears on track. By the start of July, there were roughly 150 new students enrolled for the fall. Sund said unlike most colleges, Heritage counselors work to enroll students through the summer, usually resulting in 300 new students.

“Our numbers are consistent with a year ago,” he said. “Whether that will change as we get closer to fall semester, that’s to see.”

He said counselors have also been working closely with existing students and expect the majority to return.

Funds for fall

Both colleges have avoided furloughs and layoffs so far, and the presidents said they were not in the plans. But each said it was too early to know for certain.

At YVC, Kaminski said a budget for next year has not yet been developed. She said she’s hopeful that a tight state budget will not impact the college’s funding.

For Heritage, funding primarily comes from tuition, fundraising and grants.

Sund said the college had recently renewed important grants, making it secure in that regard. A recent televised fundraiser for student scholarships brought in more than $817,000, in line with recent years.

“The negative thing that could happen is if enrollment does not come the way we expect it,” he said. “It’s looking OK, but it’s such unprecedented times that it’s hard to know where we’re going to be in the fall.”

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Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka