JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – It’s back to school for students at East Tennessee State University and for incoming freshmen, college is much different than they imagined.
The high school class of 2020 was robbed of their final months inside the classroom and it’s a similar case for those starting college classes this fall. A majority of universities across the United States have switched to either entirely online classes or a hybrid option, and ETSU is no different.
“There’s a lot of things that I was looking forward to that I’m not able to do,” said Quinn Daniels, an ETSU freshman. Daniels said he toured the campus last year prior to COVID-19 closures. He said he was excited about college life and now feels like he isn’t getting the entire experience.
He lives on campus in a dorm and said just three days after being notified of who his roommate was, the announcement was made by ETSU officials that no one living on campus would have a roommate.
Officials told News Channel 11 that on-campus living was reduced to 60% of normal occupancy due to COVID-19 concerns, and that wasn’t the only change this semester. Masks are now mandated on campus and the structure of courses has significantly changed.
“About 80% of our classes are online, completely online so that leaves about 20% of those classes that are still on grounds so it’s a little different of a semester for us,” said Associate VP of Student Life and Enrollment Sam Mayhew.
ETSU’s campus had few students walking around on Monday despite on-campus amenities still being open. With classes online, many students have little reason to commute to ETSU.
ETSU senior Matthew Landon is choosing to see the positive in things. “Parking is really open, makes it a lot easier,” he said.
All of Landon’s classes have shifted online with the exception of one. He said he has an in-person class on Tuesday but fears that it will also be moved online soon. Despite the changes, he said he is still looking forward to completing his senior year and graduating but does wish classes were normal.
“Not having on-campus classes kind of keeps you from meeting new people and having any kind of connection with anybody new,” he said.
He said in the past he’s had online classes and so far, they’ve been fine.
Early Monday morning, Zoom announced that their site was experiencing widespread technical difficulties.
News Channel 11 asked ETSU officials if Zoom impacted their first day and we were sent this statement:
“ETSU has heard from Zoom that there are issues with users logging into its portal. Zoom is investigating the problem and will provide updates. Our understanding is that those who have a link to a meeting can still join. The challenge is limited to those logging into the zoom.us portal.”-Dr. Karen King, Chief Information Officer
Other students, like freshman Jasmine O’Neal, are also trying to look at the positive. “I get to explore the campus a little bit and familiarize myself with it before I actually get to go to classes for another semester,” she said.
Overall, despite the new structure and safety protocols, students said they feel safe on campus and classes are going well so far.
“A lot of the safety precautions, they’re really extensive, but the trade-off is that it does feel a little bit safer even if things feel a bit more limited,” said Daniels.
Dr. Brian Noland could be seen walking the campus all morning wishing students a happy first day back, and while it’s a different kind of school year, he said no matter what, they’re “ETSU strong”.
“For the students who are here, I’ve had a lot of positive feedback. You can’t really see smiles, but I hope under the masks are smiles,” said Noland.
As far as when classes will return to campus completely, Noland said it’s too soon to tell.
“COVID can change things in an instant, this is certainly not the Fall semester we were planning for back in April but right now all of our focus is on a successful Fall semester and the health and safety of our students,” he said.