After selecting classes weeks in advance and sinking money into dorms and apartment leases, many University of Kentucky students learned recently that a large portion of their classes will be taught online.
Students, who were aware of the university’s big-picture reopening plans, weren’t told how their specific classes would be conducted until about two weeks ago when they checked their online class registration portals. Students found that many courses were listed as online-only and hybrid, meaning a mixture of digital work and time in class.
Nearly two-thirds of all University of Kentucky classes this fall will have at least some in-person instruction, President Eli Capilouto said in a video statement Friday that followed criticism. Most students will get both online and in-person instruction, with first-year students guaranteed to have some in-person instruction.
Capilouto apologized in the video for any breakdown in communication over how classes would be delivered.
“With a virus that remains unpredictable we’re having to combine more instruction formats than ever before to keep our students and our community safe,” Capilouto said. He added that full, large lecture halls weren’t feasible during social distancing. Many classes will use hybrid formats in which a portion of a class will meet in person while another part of the class finishes an online assignment.
Formats were largely decided at the department level by faculty. In-person classes will have to be spaced out in larger classroom spaces. Large, general-education, lecture-based classes have been broken up into smaller classes or they will be taught in a largely hybrid format. According to an online FAQ, the university has largely frozen course changes and will now only change them on a case-by-case basis.
“I had no idea what classes would look like,” said political science senior Olivia Antigua, who discovered that all of her classes were going to be taught online.
Antigua is finishing her degree in December and was both disappointed and relieved that her final semester would be fully online. She said she was disappointed to not be able to see many of her friends in her final semester. But as someone who was “more anxious about going back” she was relieved that she’ll really only have to be on campus to teach the fitness classes she does at the campus recreation centers.
“Honestly my expectations for this semester are very, very low,” Antigua said. “I feel like there hasn’t been a lot of communication.” When communication has occurred, it’s “been a little confusing. So I have zero idea of what to expect. I don’t know how online classes are going to go.”
Chloe Espino, a senior from New Jersey who has all of her classes online, wasn’t sure she’ll travel to Lexington for this fall semester. But she’s got a job and an apartment lease in Lexington to worry about.
The business communication and psychology double major was critical of how late in the summer UK announced how many of its classes were going to be taught.
“I think a lot of people are still confused and irritated,” Espino said. “I understand what (Capilouto) is saying, I understand it’s a lot, I do. I just think it could have been done a little bit more efficiently, and it could’ve just been spelled out a little bit more clear. People’s lives are dependent on this stuff. As of right now, I’m kind of a sitting duck.”
For freshman neuroscience major Alex Wesley, the university is doing “the best that they can.”
The majority of Wesley’s classes will be online, she said. Her lab and freshmen orientation class are in person. Wesley’s biology course is hybrid and the rest of her classes are online. Wesley, a Scott County High School graduate, and her roommate will also be among the first wave of students to move into UK’s dorms during the second weekend of August.
When COVID-19 resulted in her high school classes going online, Wesley said senioritis-driven dips in motivation made her at-home learning especially tough. Being forced to do most of her coursework from her dorm, Wesley is worried she’ll fall into the same mindset.
Wesley said she’s been committed to go to UK since last November, but briefly considered taking a gap year.
“I told my parents,” Wesley said. “...If my classes are online this fall, I’m not going. I’m not going to pay to sit in my dorm.” But she changed her mind. “I don’t know what you could do in a gap year with everything shut down.”
Officials predicted earlier this summer that the university would see a drop in freshmen enrollment — costing the university millions in expected revenue. Before the pandemic, the university aimed to enroll 5,700 freshmen this fall. Provost David Blackwell said at a board of trustees briefing in early June that enrollment prediction models and the best available data suggest that the freshmen class will be closer to 4,500.
The university currently has close to 5,000 confirmed freshmen for the university’s Aug. 17 start date, UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said Wednesday. But that number could drop as summer melt — the routine annual drop in confirmed freshmen before the beginning of the school year — takes its toll on the class. With COVID-19 cases rising both locally and nationwide, there’s a chance summer melt could be worse than a typical year. The university won’t know the true size of its class until early September.
“I think we’ve always estimated, as other universities across the country have, that melt could be higher this summer because of the virus,” Blanton said. “We are working hard to retain both our incoming class and to work with students, who are returning, so that they stay on track for graduation. We are pleased with our efforts so far, but also know that there’s a lot of work left to do before the start of classes in a few weeks.”
Under UK’s announced reopening plans, students won’t get Labor Day off and the in-person portion of the semester will end at Thanksgiving. Online finals week will begin after the holiday.
On campus, masks will be required unless someone is alone, eating, exercising or whenever the masks may interfere with “required curricular activities,” the university’s instruction plan says. Students who will have to go on campus will have to be tested within seven days of their arrival. Starting Aug. 3 and continuing for much of the month, UK will be offering free testing to students at a variety of on-campus locations.