Area colleges set reopening timetables.

Two Columbia colleges have different timelines for reopening their campuses amid ongoing COVID-19 health concerns, but they share the same goal: getting students back on track toward earning their degrees and beginning their careers as quickly as possible.

Midlands Technical College will begin a three-phase reopening process on June 1, when some students will return for lab work. Faculty and staff will begin returning in phases June 15, while students will return to campus when the fall semester begins Aug. 24.

"When I walk around campus without seeing students, it feels empty. It really will be great to have them back on campus, for a number of reasons," Ron Rhames, MTC president, said. "I think certain students want to be on campus and they want to see their classmates. They want to interact with their instructors face-to-face. That will give us a true sense we're moving in the right direction."

At ECPI University, some students have already resumed in-person classes, with safety protocols including temperature checks and face coverings in place.

"Our students didn't want to be sidelined or have their careers sidelined during this epidemic," Jim Rund, ECPI Columbia campus president, said. "They want to actually be a part of the solution. They want to get out there with their careers."

Though concerns about the new coronavirus are not going away South Carolina announced a record one-day total of 512 new cases on Saturday MTC president Ron Rhames said the nature of many of the college's programs make online simulation challenging.

"While we know that it (COVID-19) may or may not be around or we may have surge during the fall term, we believe that for our students, for our college, it is best that if we can get as many students in the classroom taking classes," Rhames said. "It's much better. That's because many of our programs require hands-on learning. When you think about a technical college like us, programs require field experience, the lab experience. Those kinds of things are critical."

That said, Rhames, who praised MTC faculty and staff for a seamless transition to online learning when the school closed in March in response to the pandemic, said the majority of the college's classes will be offered online in the fall when possible.

"If you're taking welding, you may have to come to campus," Rhames said. "But when you come to campus, we'll have the social distancing in place. We will assure you that you won't be within six feet of...

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