Lamont: Full return to CT state college campuses planned for fall

NEW HAVEN — Kayla Garner said it’s been too long since she could meet up with friends after classes at Gateway Community College to slurp on noodles at Mecha Noodle Bar on Crown Street in New Haven.

But on Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont announced that college students like Garner are in luck: the state is planning a full return to college campuses in the fall, with some hybrid or virtual course offerings available.

“We’re open for business; come back,” he said to students.

Protocols including mask-wearing and social distancing still will be required.

Garner, president of the Gateway Community College undergraduate student government, said in-person education is part of the student experience.

“It’s a place for us to come together and connect,” she said.

Lamont and several college and university presidents said they will monitor public health guidance, and some restrictions will remain.

Currently, Lamont said that while he wants residents 16 and older to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, the state does not expect to require it as a condition of attendance in the state’s public schools. He said, instead of requiring vaccines, the state is encouraging them.

“We will find out later in the year if that’s enough,” he said.

Yale University announced Monday that students on campus must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

William Brown, CEO of Gateway Community College, said schools are “following the data and the science” and will not “rush” a return. However, there are no plans to require students to be vaccinated as a condition of enrollment.

Southern Connecticut State University President Joe Bertolino said his campus is reopening “gradually” beginning June 1 in anticipation of being fully open by Aug. 1. He said more than 70 percent of courses this fall will have an in-person element, with a minimum three feet of space between students in classrooms.

LikeSCSU, private universities such as Quinnipiac University have offered students an opportunity to live and learn on campus this year — albeit with depopulation efforts in dormitories and classrooms. Both Bertolino and Quinnipiac University President Judy Olian said students on campus overwhelmingly adhered to protocols.

“They have been remarkable mature and responsible,” Olian said, with “very few infractions.” Given the increasing rate of people receiving vaccinations in the state, Olian said it instills confidence in her that a statewide return to campuses is possible when students managed “under tougher circumstances” than what they should face in the fall.

Shoreline-West Regional Community College President Thomas Coley said online courses still will be offered in the community colleges.

“The idea is to be flexible,” he said.

College leaders said there has been a decline in enrollment during the pandemic, but they hope to return to the numbers they had before. According to system leaders, there was a 15 percent drop in community college enrollment statewide and a 5.5 percent drop in enrollment in the four public universities under the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system as of October.

“Most students are waiting,” Bertolino said, although he expressed optimism that Monday’s announcement about a full return to campuses would change minds. Olian said she recognizes that students and families need to “kick the tires” before making a decision to enroll for four years.