UMass expects about 7,000 students to live on campus this fall

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/20/2020 4:16:17 PM

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts Amherst anticipates that around 7,000 students, or 50-60% of its usual on-campus population, will return to university housing for the fall semester.

After announcing in late June that an unlimited number of students would be allowed to return to campus in the fall, UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said on Monday that this below-60% capacity figure is “exactly where we wanted to be,” adding that this is the limit that some other area colleges have placed on students returning to campus. Most students will have all-remote classes.

The update was announced on the same date that the University of Massachusetts board of trustees voted to freeze tuition for the 2020-2021 academic year for in-state undergraduate and graduate students across all campuses. The UMass system also announced that it will cut around 6% of its full-time equivalent employees and institute thousands of furloughs due to a $264 million budget deficit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This translates to a $104 million deficit at the Amherst campus, according to Subbaswamy, who did not say what specific positions or programs will be impacted.

Subbaswamy released the new information on the fall semester in a press briefing, which included a response to concerns raised by the Amherst community and Town Manager Paul Bockelman, who earlier this month released a letter to Subbaswamy stating that he has “profound concerns” about the university’s fall reopening plans — most notably, reopening on-campus residence halls to all students and discrepancies in precautions imposed on students living on or off campus.

During the briefing, Subbaswamy said that he was “a little caught off guard” by the letter but continues to work closely with Amherst officials as the fall semester draws closer.

In a letter to Bockelman released Monday, Subbaswamy wrote, “We share your expressed concerns about our community because they are our joint concerns,” adding that the university considered the behavior of both on- and off-campus students when creating its reopening plans.

“We can’t control how many students engaged in remote learning choose to rent apartments off campus versus remaining in their hometowns,” Subbaswamy wrote of the decision to reopen residence halls. “But we were made aware, via multiple communication channels with students and parents, that even if campus residence halls were closed to them, a large number of our students intended to return to the Amherst area in the fall.”

Additionally, he noted, the university “fully anticipated that our invitation to live on campus, which was conveyed with a stark picture of how limited college life will be, combined with our decision to conduct all teaching online (except for essential labs, studio performances, etc.), would result in a significant decrease in students wanting to return to Amherst.”

Students returning to campus or the surrounding areas must sign the UMass Agreement, which outlines a number of public health and social distancing policies that students must follow if they choose to live in the area this fall, such as wearing a face covering when outside of one’s room, adhering to daily contact limitations and restricting guests on campus.

Another 8,000-8,500 students typically live off-campus in Amherst and surrounding communities, according to university spokesman Ed Blaguszewski, with 14,000 students on campus most years. UMass officials do not currently know exactly how many students will live off campus in the Amherst area this year, he said, but conversations with local landlords show “there is not excessive demand compared to previous years.”

Currently, 3,200 students are enrolled in in-person classes, according to university spokeswoman Mary Dettloff, and 750 of those students are living on campus.

University officials estimate that they will be able to administer around 14,000 COVID-19 tests per week, according to Subbaswamy. The university plans to test on-campus students and off-campus students who have a meal plan or in-person classes once per week, regardless of if they are showing symptoms or asymptomatic, and all students living on or off campus must be tested prior to or shortly after their arrival to the area. These tests will not draw from state resources, according to university officials.

In addition to Bockelman’s concerns, members of surrounding communities also have criticized the university’s reopening plans. A petition by local residents urging area college officials to not allow students back to campus in the fall had over 700 signatures as of Monday.

Among the Five Colleges, only UMass and Hampshire College have invited all students back to campus, though Hampshire has a significantly smaller student population, with fall enrollment anticipated at 550 to 600 students.

Smith, Mount Holyoke and Amherst colleges have invited just freshmen and sophomores back to campus in the fall, in addition to some other students whose situations require them to be on campus. Smith has the second-highest student population of the Five Colleges, with over 2,400 undergraduates typically studying in Northampton, according to the college’s website.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@
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