Portland State University Monday officially announced it is planning for a primarily in-person fall term.
“As sobering as the current rates of infection are, the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in Oregon has given us all reason to be optimistic that the end of the pandemic is finally within sight,” PSU President Stephen Percy wrote in a message to the campus community. “We have every expectation that widespread vaccinations will cause infection rates to decline significantly over the summer, making it safe for us to resume in-person learning in the fall.”
The university, like other institutions in Oregon, has been conducting a few select courses in-person during the pandemic. The school said it has not reported any coronavirus cases connected to any in-person instruction on campus. PSU said its fall term plan will include continuing to follow public health guidance for social distancing, mask-wearing and gathering sizes.
Percy said the university is advocating for students, staff and faculty in higher education to be included in the groups prioritized for access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The Oregon Health Authority said although K-12 educators and other early childhood educators and care providers are next in line for the vaccine, following healthcare workers, postsecondary educators are not included in that group. According to the agency, it’s still unclear when postsecondary educators will be eligible to get vaccinated. That will be eventually determined in coordination with the state’s Vaccine Advisory Committee, officials said.
Some K-12 teachers are already receiving the vaccine. The decision to prioritize educators comes as Oregon Gov. Kate Brown hopes to get younger students back in class, setting a goal of Feb. 15 to get as many schools as possible to resume in-person. However, even with the availability of vaccines, some districts have recently announced delays to reopening plans.
In his statement, Percy stated that higher education has been hit particularly hard in Oregon during the pandemic. According to Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, Oregon public universities as a whole last fall saw an enrollment decline of 3.8%. Community colleges saw 23% fewer students.
Percy also acknowledged PSU’s own continuing decline in enrollment.
“We will have much more information to share soon about our budget picture, and our intention is to be transparent during this entire process,” Percy wrote Monday. “For now, I want you to know that I have absolute confidence that we will meet these challenges with the same indomitable, creative spirit that we have shown throughout the pandemic, and emerge stronger and more committed to our mission.”
PSU said it will continue to mostly offer virtual classes for the spring and summer terms, though it will continue to offer in-person services such as the residence halls, library and study spaces.