USF plans full return to in-person classes; other schools may follow suit

College students in the Tampa Bay area can look forward to a shift in campus life this fall after the pandemic moved many classes online or outside last year.

The University of South Florida announced Wednesday the campus will move back to full in-person classes and other activities, and other schools are having those same conversations.

"It’s been really difficult," said Kennedy Yelvington, a freshman at USF studying mechanical engineering who began hybrid classes Thursday. "Just being in the classroom today for the first time you actually learn things."

This past year has not been the college experience students expected.

"The campus is empty. I go to class in a large lecture hall, and there’s only 20 kids," said Matias Casas, a USF student who will begin graduate-level classes this fall. "I prefer being on campus. It’s a different environment being around students and then seeing the professor and being able to walk up to the professor after class."

Although USF will return to full in-person classes this fall, other schools went back to face-to-face a lot sooner.

At Eckerd College, educators started the 2020 fall semester with mostly in-person classes outdoors, and instruction has remained mostly outdoors this spring.

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"We invested in amplified microphones that faculty could use so they could teach with masks on outside and still be heard and we bought a bunch of rolling whiteboards," said Suzan Harrison, the vice president for Academic Affairs and Dean of College at Eckerd College.

Harrison said they adapted to pandemic academic life by conducting regular COVID testing of students, staff and faculty and by constantly refining their plan.

"Right now, we’re talking a lot of about the new variations that have emerged, and we’re watching very closely to see what kinds of changes we might observe because we’re ready to do whatever we need to do to keep our students, faculty and staff safe," said Harrison.

The University of Tampa has had predominantly face-to-face learning too, and a spokesperson told FOX 13 they expect to get even closer to normalcy next semester.

College administrators said the vaccines are encouraging and the next semester gives students a chance to experience what they expect from campus life.

"[I feel] relieved because like right now paying for all these classes and not being able to go it’s kind of like a waste of money, especially for people that are coming from different states and paying all this money to basically do it in your dorm room. It’s kind of hard," said Yelvington. "Doing it in person is way better, and you’re getting your money’s worth."

USF said they are working with public health officials on guidelines and how to transition safely, and they plan to start increasing class sizes this summer.