ST. JOSEPH/COLLEGEVILLE – With less than two months to go before the start of fall semester, the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University are preparing for an unusual semester.

Both schools are planning to offer a mixture of in-person and virtual classes throughout the entire academic year.

“We outfitted all of our classrooms with cameras and microphones this summer,” said Michael Hemmesch, CSB/SJU Executive Director of Public Relations. “This gives us flexibility – if students or staff need to be away from the classroom, they can still participate in their classroom work.”

The technology will allow both students and faculty to operate remotely for as long as necessary. Hemmesch said both campuses have moved to a block plan; instead of taking four classes at once, students will take one class at a time. Each class will last 3.5 weeks.

“(The block plan) allows for more flexibility if we were to need to move to online only,” Hemmesch said. “It also reduces the amount of in-person contact.”

Most CSB and SJU students live on campus, so Hemmesch says finding ways to limit their contact with one another is critical. Hemmesch says administrators from CSB/SJU have been in communication with leaders of other colleges and universities around the country as they envision the coming school year.

“This is a very complex and complicated issue and we’re seeking as much advice as possible,” Hemmesch said.

One recent concern involving the two schools’ international student body is no longer weighing on the minds of campus leaders. Last week, the Trump administration announced it would strip international students of their F-1 and M-1 visas and prevent them from attending colleges and universities in the fall that have switched to online-only learning. Hundreds of colleges and universities, along with dozens of cities and tech companies opposed the rule. The administration Tuesday rescinded the decision.

The two campuses expect to welcome 120 international students from 15 countries this fall.

“The well-being of our international students is so important to us,” Hemmesch said. “They’re such an integral part of our campus communities. The international flavor and culture on our college campuses is something Minnesota should be proud of. So, this type of rule affects us more than many other states, and is probably why Minnesota’s response to this has been so strong.”

Fall semester for the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University begins August 31.