Jayson Boyers officially started as the new president of Rosemont College on Monday, but his work began weeks ago as he helped the small liberal arts school develop a reopening plan for the fall.
Rosemont on Wednesday unveiled that plan, one of the most detailed released by a local college so far. The college will divide the semester for undergraduates into two seven-week terms, with students taking a few classes during each. Using a hybrid approach, students will meet with faculty in person for class once a week — as long as the county is in Pennsylvania’s green reopening phase — and do the rest of their work online. They will conclude in-person classes at Thanksgiving and finish the semester remotely, limiting the potential for travel and spread.
“The idea was that if we had to transition again (to fully online), students aren’t trying to balance five classes at a time,” he said. “They are balancing two, maybe three.”
The plan also includes temperature checks, mask-wearing, and vigorous cleaning.
Boyers convened a task force and worked on the plan remotely, most recently from Sarasota, Fla., where he will remain until later this month when he moves into a rental property in Wayne.
A new college president faces an ambitious workload under any circumstances, meeting many campus constituents, while learning about the local community. During a pandemic — with most campuses largely shuttered and facing the challenge of safely reopening — those tasks become exponentially harder.
“Planning to reopen a campus in the current environment is one of the toughest challenges any university college president has ever faced,” said Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education. “There is no guidebook. There is nothing like this in living memory.”
For one week in early May, Boyers was doing the job, times two. He was closing out his presidency at Cleary University, a business school in Michigan, and helping Rosemont, a college of about 350 undergraduates and 515 graduate students in Montgomery County.
“Moving during a pandemic is not something I would recommend,” Boyers said.
Rentals were snapped up quickly. With the help of a Rosemont alum, he found a townhouse that he viewed virtually. He’s also been talking to the area’s business, health-care, and educational leaders to prepare.
“It really helped me to understand how we can best navigate this,” he said.
He comes to Rosemont as colleges nationally, even before the pandemic, were struggling to meet enrollment targets, amid a decline in high school graduates. Rosemont in recent years reset its tuition to attract more middle-class students and sought to appeal to a wider pool by scrapping a requirement that applicants submit standardized test scores.
A small college like Rosemont will become even more appealing in a pandemic, he said.
“We have a contained campus,” he said. “It’s not sprawled out. I really believe that a small college that opens well, takes care of their community, which includes faculty, students and staff, and stays on mission. there’s an opportunity … to show why they’re unique.”
As for reopening, Rosemont will eliminate fall break and strongly encourage students to stay on campus during the days between the terms, by offering advising and educational opportunities, he said.
“That’s going to reduce the risk to the whole community,” he said.
The college expects to have about 270 students living on campus once the county is in the green phase, Boyers said. During the red and yellow phases, it will require daily temperature and symptom checks for anyone entering campus. (On Wednesday, the state’s education secretary said colleges in counties in the yellow or green phase of reopening could resume in-person classes on Friday.)
The college also will require mask-wearing during red and yellow phases and encourage it during green when students will be back on campus, he said. The college will give students a care package including a Rosemont-branded face mask, sanitizer, and safety tips.
The campus also plans deep cleanings and has reconfigured the maximum capacity for each building, based on CDC guidelines of 36 square feet per person, to allow for social distancing, Boyers said.
Dining-hall food will be takeout during red and yellow phases, with reduced seating during green.
So far, fall enrollment looks stable, Boyers said. The college is keeping tuition at $19,500 for 2020-21.
Boyers is not deterred.