UM-Dearborn, HFC creates hybrid plan to keep commuter populations safe this semester

The University of Michigan-Dearborn and Henry Ford College (HFC) have adapted their plans for the upcoming semester to offer mostly remote learning as opposed to traditional face-to-face classes. Both colleges have chosen a hybrid format to adapt to the safety needs of their students, staff, and faculty.


With Dearborn’s COVID-19 cases spiking in numbers similar to Detroit, both colleges have been focusing on how to keep students safe while still providing quality education.




UM-Dearborn will be offering over 85% of their classes online and the rest in an in-person or hybrid format. According to Ken Kettenbeil, vice chancellor for external relations, the university chose not to go fully remote to accommodate classes that need face-to-face components.


“[In person] classes include layouts and design projects and other classes that maybe can be taught better in person than doing it remotely,” Kettenbeil said. “So, more hands-on classes will be taught in person.”


Since the pandemic hit in March, UM-Dearborn has not offered classes in person. Their spring and summer semesters were fully online due to health concerns. Unlike the Ann Arbor main campus, the Dearborn branch of the university serves mostly a commuter population, and with Dearborn’s proximity to Detroit, they felt it important to keep their campus community as safe as possible.


“We made the decision based on our location,” Kettenbeil said. “Being in Wayne County [which] is obviously a huge hotspot for the coronavirus still. After the city of Detroit, I believe the Dearborn numbers are our second highest in Wayne County, and so our chief priority is keeping the students, faculty, and staff safe that need to be on campus. And so students will be required to complete a very brief health screening training before they come to campus.”


In addition to the health screening, all personnel on campus will be asked to use specific entrances and exits to maximize traffic flow, get their temperature taken, and will abide by social distancing and mask requirements. There will also be records of who will be in each building in order to help with contact tracing.


The students at UM-Dearborn have been constantly updated with the changes to their return to campus plans in order to ensure they can properly plan and prepare for the upcoming semester. Senior Ashley Kasper, who is majoring in environmental studies with a pre-law track, has been “relieved with just how proactive they’ve been” in their choice to offer mostly remote learning opportunities. She will be completing the semester totally online.


“Especially since U of M Dearborn is a commuter campus, I think it’s vital we are virtual,” Kasper said. “Students come to campus, and then they go home to their families. And in my case, I have two family members who are more susceptible to COVID-19, and me having the ability to stay home [is great]. I think it’s just the best choice to rather overreact than regret the choices you’ve made later.”


Henry Ford College


HFC has also pivoted to a hybrid format for the fall semester. Serving a similar population of commuters, HFC realized the need to offer as many classes as they could in an online format. However, unlike UM-Dearborn, HFC has held face-to-face classes since March.


During the winter semester, we had to postpone nearly 250 classes of the type that must be held face-to-face, affecting more than 1,000 students,” said Rhonda DeLong, executive director of marketing and presidential communications. “These were trades classes such as welding, automotive maintenance, electrical, and many others, as well as some culinary and art classes, and certain health professions classes, all of which require hands-on experience for students. This summer, we were able to safely resume – and complete – those courses on our campus with enhanced safety measures in place.”


Because HFC has had in-person classes for a small portion of their student population, they have already gotten experience with the practical side of learning in a post-pandemic classroom. When a person comes to the HFC campus, they are expected to fill out a health screening form, get their temperature taken, and will social distance and wear masks.


“To my knowledge, there were no cases of COVID among those students or faculty,” DeLong said. “With this experience and our enhanced safety measures, we believe we will be able to offer those same classes this fall – many in high-demand fields where employers are asking us to provide qualified professionals as rapidly as safely possible.”


Should there be a case on campus, HFC will report it to the Wayne County Health Department, and together they will decide the necessary response. Depending on the severity of the outbreak, HFC has measures in place to “close down classrooms, buildings, and other spaces if we have reason to believe exposures have occurred in those spaces.”


Students have been made aware of HFC plans for the fall semester, and according to DeFong, while some are disappointed by the circumstances, they understand the need for remote learning in the fall. Student services will also be offered remotely, which is another adjustment; however, HFC has added laptop loaner programs to help address needs that arose from the pandemic.


“All of us now have new skill sets, and a new perspective on how success can be achieved and measured,” DeLong said. “We have learned that strong teamwork is not location-dependent. In the end, we will be a stronger community in terms of our employees and our students, and our connections to the broader communities that rely on us. We are excited about the future.”