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MECC plans for online fall 2020 semester

Staff report • May 27, 2020 at 2:00 PM

BIG STONE GAP — Mountain Empire Community College has chosen a primarily online route for its fall 2020 semester, and students will see tuition remain level for that period.

College spokesperson Amy Greear on Tuesday said most courses will be offered online as a health and safety precaution, although scheduling for the semester will depend on local COVID-19 pandemic conditions, Virginia Department of Health and federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines and any executive orders issued by Gov. Ralph Northam.

Courses will range from online only to various mixes of online and in-person content.

The college on March 23 moved to online courses for the remainder of the spring semester in the wake of Northam’s March 12 declaration of a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virginia Community College System Chancellor Glenn DuBois in April ordered a task force from among the system’s 23 community colleges to propose changes in how those schools operate to meet the needs of students and businesses across the state.

The State Board for Community Colleges on May 21 voted to keep tuition for the fall semester at its current $154 and out-of-state tuition at $354.10.

Technical programs including welding, machining, truck driving, construction, engineering and other in-person intensive programs will see smaller class sizes to accommodate social distancing. Additional cleaning and sanitizing procedures will be used for those courses.

MECC health programs including registered and practical nursing, respiratory therapy, dental assistant and other programs will ensure students have the necessary personal protective equipment for their coursework and practicums.

“MECC is committed to work with students to complete their courses,” MECC President Kristen Westover said Tuesday. “We believe that our approach is the safest choice we can make for this fall while ensuring that students are able to learn and train for their future careers.

“Faculty and staff have shown tremendous innovation in designing a large variety of course and program offerings that will be safe, engaging, and accessible,” Westover added.

Online courses will vary from scheduled virtual meetings to courses that allow students to work at their own pace and complete assignments and exams on deadline. Student support services — including assessment of online learning readiness, career exploration, tutoring, advising, online testing and other services — will operate mainly in a virtual format with some provisions for face-to-face work.

“We began these offerings nearly 25 years ago, growing to become Virginia’s largest public provider of distance learning courses,” DuBois said of the VCCS’ changes in the wake of the pandemic. “We served more than 150,000 people last year through the more than 10,000 virtual courses offered across our 23 community colleges. We are safe, we are the largest provider of higher education in Virginia, we are the largest online provider of higher education in Virginia, and we are the most affordable educational option in Virginia.”

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