HELENA — The COVID-19 pandemic has required education institutions across the world to reevaluate how to provide quality education while reducing the potential spread of disease in their facilities. The lessons learned Helena College University of Montana the past semester will hopefully have beneficial impacts on students for years to come.
“The fall semester was in every way a success,” said Helena College Dean/CEO Dr. Sandra Bauman. “We were very pleased with the campus coming together to help create our safety plan and execute our plan; we had great compliance.”
Of the more than 1,400 students attending Helena College, so far there have only been five confirmed COVID cases associated with the college.
Bauman says they’ve been very fortunate for being able to keep COVID out of their classrooms, and credits a lot of success towards the campus culture of staying home when sick.
“If the student or staff was sick or not feeling well, we knew creating a culture where people don’t feel obligated to come to campus was the most important thing we could do,” said Bauman.
Helena College worked to limit the impacts of not attending in-person as much as possible for their students. Digital attendance options were available where students could still interact with the in-person class and faculty streamed and recorded lessons for students to view at home.
“Over all our faculty just supported students with their flexibility for deadlines and their willingness to do the extra work,” said Bauman. “Outside of the classroom our faculty were great too. Students could get in-person services, or we found ways to offer all of those services remotely. Everything from meeting with financial aid to a tutor to meeting with their academic adviser.”
Helena College reports there was also no significant change in student academic success rates on campus with the Fall 2020 Semester being comparable to prior years.
Bauman said it was a bit of a sigh of relief since they were trying so many new things in every class. The academic success has also shown the college that there are ways to support students so they don’t feel obligated to attend in-person when they’re sick or have a sick child.
Bauman’s hope is that the new methods learned during COVID can be applied going forward to help more students have a path for success.
“We know that a lot of the measures that we put in place to help students stay in school even if they couldn’t come to campus are just great strategies for working adults,” said Bauman. “We know that they are great tools with universal design to support people coming back to school and managing everything else.”
Helena College recognizes there’s always room for improvement and faculty are currently looking at ways they can improve for the 2021 Spring Semester.
Bauman says she would like to see more support for student well-being in general and focus on improving the traffic patterns of students moving between classes on campus.
“The other thing we’d like to see is more social engagement and opportunities for coming together when you can’t physically come together,” said Bauman. “Ways to enjoy college and each other while still being safe, that’s something we’ll focus on as well.”
Other than those improvements, the spring 2021 semester at Helena College will look similar to the recent fall semester for students. Masks and all other COVID safety guidelines will continue to be followed.
Classes are starting a week later than a standard year for the spring semester to condense the semester and limit travel by the students and faculty.
The two condensed semesters because of COVID did allow Helena College to add a winter semester that allowed students to take general courses. Bauman says it was well attended and provided students a chance to get caught up or even work ahead for their degrees.
There is still a lot of unknown for Helena College this spring, including when or if there will be a traditional graduation ceremony.
“We will celebrate graduation in some way. If it can’t look like the normal gathering that we’ve done in the past we will continue to celebrate. We also have more time to plan this year for an alternate ceremony if it comes to that,” said Bauman.
Enrollment for the Spring 2021 semester at Helena College is still open. More information about courses and financial aid can be found on their website.