COVID-19 Closure Hits Campus Housing; North Central Quickly Converts All Classes to Online; No Return From Spring Break; All Sports, Trips, Conferences, Meetings Canceled

North Central President Scott Hagan announced the suspension of all on-campus classes, activities, and spring sports for the remainder of the semester March 18 to protect the North Central community from the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

In an email sent to the campus in March, Hagan said that it would be safer for students, faculty and staff to not return to campus. 

“As we have analyzed the landscape and observed efforts across the nation to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus, our Senior Leadership Team, faculty deans, and COVID-19 Task Force have concluded that our anticipated and hoped-for reunion after Easter cannot take place,” Hagan wrote. 

North Central’s campus closure was one among most colleges across the nation shifting to online education as a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, swept the world. The virus causes a respiratory disease (COVID-19), and it spreads through water droplets in coughs, sneezes, and simple breathing.

When students were leaving campus March 6 for Spring Break, the coronavirus was already spreading in North America, and normal life in the US was about to change.

A series of emails concerning precautions on campus started unfolding on March 11 when Hagan announced a campus shutdown for the week of March 16-22. The administration initially planned to resume in late March. 

The closure came right at the middle of Spring Break, and many students were away from the Twin Cities. While all classes would continue online without interruption, students were requested to not return to the campus—regardless of what they left behind. 

North Central seemed to be ahead of the curve, as all other social events soon began shutting down. On March 12, under pressure from health officials, the NCAA canceled all spring sports. On March 13, President Donald Trump issued a National Emergency

On March 15, as Minnesota’s Covid-19 cases climbed to 14, Gov. Tim Walz closed all schools in the state. The same day, a second email extended North Central’s campus closure to April 14. 

As Spring Break ended, the federal government ordered all gatherings of more than 10 people to cease. The governor of Minnesota ordered all non-essential business to be shuttered. 

North Central faculty moved their classes online. T.J. Jones Library purchased and stocked e-books for students to check out virtually. The IT department purchased licenses for computer software for the campus. Student development created a scheduling process for students to pick up needed items from their dorms in order to maintain social distancing requirements.

Many students hunkered down at home with their families, laptops propped on kitchen tables, headphones in their ears, talking to classmates and teachers via video conference.

As cases swelled in the US, the administrative task force made the final call that North Central’s doors would be closed for the remainder of the semester, with exceptions regarding living accommodations for select students. For the foreseeable future, the hallways of North Central would no longer echo the quick steps of tardy students, the sea of voices returning from chapel, or the hearty laughs of professors. 

The social landscape in the state continued to change as Gov. Walz ordered all residents to stay at home, starting March 27.

The spring play “Into the Woods” was canceled. All Rams spring sports, including track and field, baseball, softball, tennis, lacrosse, golf, were canceled. The graduation ceremony, initially set for May, was eventually canceled. The library was closed, as was the Student Success Center.

Many students who depended on academic coaching and tutoring resources said they have had a more challenging time keeping up with the online courses.

But the campus adapted in many ways. Daily chapel was held on the North Central YouTube channel. The athletic department held workouts via video conference and did a TikTok Final Four. The administration drafted a “Pass/No Pass” grade option for students to ensure no one would receive a failing grade. 

And students received refunds for their room and board costs. The university sent the refunds before most colleges, and before the school had received any government aid. Later in March, staff worked intensely to apply for funds from the CARES Act, a $2-trillion federal aid bill signed into law March 27. 

North Central was eventually awarded more than $1 million in aid, with the restriction that $523,151 be awarded to students.

The billalso granted a $1,200 payment to adults earning less than $75,000 per year (and $2,400 to couples earning less than $150,000), with an extra $500 for each child.

Although the payments were helpful to some students (and a boost for younger married students), others did not qualify because their parents claimed them as dependents. 

The CARES Act does provide some relief for students facing loan payments: most federal student loans are now in “administrative forbearance.” The provision means that some student loans will have no interest and no payments until Sept. 30, but students were encouraged (via email) to check with North Central’s financial aid office to navigate the program.

Hagan said North Central leadership staff is currently assessing options for North Central related to the Fall 2020 semester. Summer travel and summer activities for the campus have been canceled as of now. All college administrators are facing uncertainty about the coming months. 

Still, Hagan struck a positive tone in his end of semester messages. 

Hagan said he is confident that regardless of what occurs in the upcoming weeks and months, God will continue to lead this university.  

“No matter how I feel during that moment when the information first arrives, God always arrives next and strengthens my heart and sensibilities.” Hagan wrote.

Northerner staff members contributed reporting for this story.