Atlanta HBCUs to conduct virtual learning for fall semester



Atlanta’s three largest historically Black colleges and universities said Monday they will only conduct classes online during the fall semester, basing their decisions on a recent surge of confirmed COVID-19 cases in this area and across the nation.

The announcements by Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse and Spelman colleges, which are expected to further strain their finances, were made less than three weeks after the schools said they would follow a hybrid plan of in-person classes for some students and online courses for others.

“It was just 19 days ago, on July 1, when we published our plan, fully anticipating that, as summer progressed, the virus would subside. Quite the opposite has been the case. An honest appraisal of the evolving facts compelled us to change course,” Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell wrote in a message to the college’s first-year students, who were previously told they would be able to take classes in-person.

The three schools, each private, had about 8,000 students combined last year. They are the largest higher education institutions in the Atlanta region to announce plans to only conduct classes online.

The University System of Georgia, the state’s largest public system, is planning to have students back on its 26 campuses, but some classes will be taught online. Emory University, Georgia’s largest private university, said Friday it will have some in-person classes, but many of its classes will be taught online.

Reaction was mixed on social media. Some called it a hard, but right decision to protect students and employees. Others said they were disappointed not to be able to take classes in-person or complained about tuition costs.

The three schools are part of the Atlanta University Center Consortium, which allows students to take some courses at the other institutions and share some services, such as the Robert W. Woodruff Library. The library will offer some services to all students virtually, Spelman said. All three schools said they would offer discounts in tuition and other fees.

The changes announced Monday could significantly impact their enrollments, finances and staffing.

Spelman said its decision to go to online learning “means a significant loss in revenue.” Many of its students live outside Georgia, and pay to live on campus. The college said there will be no students in the dorms, but it will review hardship cases. It also said it has no current plans for employee reductions.

Credit: AJC file photo: Hyosub Shin

Credit: AJC file photo: Hyosub Shin

Morehouse President David A. Thomas told the AJC the college is bracing for a 25% drop in enrollment, about 500 students. Morehouse said one campus facility will be open for 40 international students and others in critical need of housing. The college, which announced in May about a dozen employees will lose their jobs and others will be furloughed, said it will look at its staffing levels. Thomas said some employees may be enlisted to help students with tutoring and counseling needs. The college, Thomas said, wants to find ways to more actively engage students, noticing some had trouble adjusting to online instruction last semester.

“In this moment, it is not about being right, it’s about making the right decision,” Thomas said of the college’s approach to the pandemic.

Clark Atlanta President George T. French Jr. said he estimates a $20 million revenue decline. French said on its website that the university is working in different ways to help students succeed online. All faculty are certified to teach classes remotely, he said. The school will also mail each student a free, Dell laptop computer that the university purchased at a substantial discount from Dell Technologies. Clark Atlanta will not offer residential housing, as a safety precaution.

“With cautious optimism, we pray the spread of the COVID-19 virus will decrease substantially, and that we will be able to get back to some sense of normalcy soon,” said French, the consortium council’s president.