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Community colleges hope to bring students back to campus this fall

Although no community colleges have implemented vaccination requirements so far, they are actively encouraging students, faculty and staff to get shots.

City Colleges of Chicago plan to return to some in-person learning this fall.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Community colleges across Illinois are cautiously optimistic they will be able to bring back students for in-person classes this fall.

And while a few four-year schools in the Chicago area — including Loyola University Chicago, Columbia College and DePaul University — have announced that students will be required to be vaccinated before returning to campus, most community colleges do not plan to make vaccines mandatory.

After more than a year of nearly all remote coursework, most community colleges said they plan to offer classes four different ways this fall: fully in-person; a hybrid format involving a combination of both in-person and online instruction; virtual classes that involve online synchronous meetings; and fully asynchronous, online classes.

City Colleges of Chicago will offer a range of in-person and remote options for students to take classes this summer and fall, officials said.

“While we strongly encourage all Chicagoans who are eligible to get vaccinated, students will not be required to be vaccinated. We are currently running a COVID-19 testing pilot at three City Colleges of Chicago locations,” said a City Colleges spokeswoman.

College of DuPage plans to make 15 percent of its summer course offerings and 30 percent of its fall course offerings either in-person or hybrid. Although highly encouraged, students, faculty and staff won’t be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

College of Lake County also plans to offer more in-person classes this summer and fall, and aims to modify class sizes to accommodate face-to-face classes and social distancing guidelines.

“Keeping student safety in mind, we’re offering a third of our classes face to face this summer and gradually increasing the number to about 45 to 50 percent this fall,” said Sonya Williams, vice president of educational affairs and chief academic officer of College of Lake County. She added: “Plans are tentative pending the future climate.”

College President Lori Suddick said “while things may change in the future, presently CLC does not have plans to implement a vaccine requirement for students. The college actively encourages students to be vaccinated and is establishing access on campus for testing with Shield Illinois.”

Shield Illinois is a University of Illinois System unit that is working on state-wide distribution of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s saliva-based COVID-19 PCR test.

A funding agreement between the Illinois Department of Public Health and Shield Illinois announced recently will make it possible for the state’s 49 community colleges to test their students, faculty and staff and opt in to become community testing sites where residents can be tested for free.

There are five colleges that will serve as Shield Illinois community testing sites — Black Hawk, Heartland, Lincoln Land, Oakton and Sauk Valley.

Oakton plans to make optional Shield COVID tests available to students, faculty and staff at its Des Plaines and Skokie campuses as it plans to increase the number of face-to-face courses offered this fall, while continuing to offer online and hybrid courses.

“At this time, Oakton does not plan to require students or employees to be vaccinated as a condition for returning to campus,” said an Oakton Community College spokesperson.

Heartland plans to offer Shield testing at its main campus through the end of this semester and during the summer, also in preparation for more in-person classes in the fall. Heartland does not currently have a vaccination requirement in place.

“About 60 to 70 percent of classes will be on campus in the fall. This is similar to pre-COVID numbers,” said a spokesperson from Heartland Community College. “The numbers are, of course, subject to change based upon registration and whatever the current conditions may be in the fall.”

Lincoln Land Community College has also started to introduce this new voluntary testing program for students, faculty and staff as it prepares to bring back in-person learning in the fall, though vaccinations will not be required.