12 changes University of Michigan students will notice this school year due to COVID-19

Fall semester to begin Aug. 31

'The Cube' is motionless in the video portraying an empty U-M campus. (University of Michigan)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The University of Michigan announced its plans for the fall semester Monday, and there will be many changes students notice due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Here’s a look at what will be different for the 2020 fall and 2021 winter semesters.

No breaks

Michigan announced major changes to the academic calendar, including the elimination of both the fall and winter breaks.

University of Michigan academic calendar: Here are the new dates for fall, winter semesters

Instead of giving students some time off in the middle of the semesters, classes will run from Aug. 31 through Nov. 20 during the fall.

An end date for winter classes was not announced, but students will begin classes Jan. 19 and take exams from April 22 through April 29, without a designated break.

Two months outside class

Michigan typically continues classes through mid-December before exams leading up to the holidays, but due to the possibility of a second wave of the coronavirus, students will have an entire month without going into a classroom.

RELATED: Here’s which Michigan colleges will have in-person, online fall classes -- or both

On-campus classes will end at Thanksgiving to minimize student travel home and back to campus. That means the last day of in-person classes for the fall semester will be Nov. 20.

After a nine-day Thanksgiving break, classes will resume remotely Nov. 30 and continue until Dec. 8, with final exams running from Dec. 10 through Dec. 18, the university announced.

The winter semester won’t begin until Jan. 19, which means from Nov. 20 to Jan. 19, students will either be on break or learning remotely.

Remote learning

More than ever before, Michigan will offer remote learning options for many classes.

Students on the Ann Arbor campus will be able to choose from a full set of courses, Schlissel said.

Courses will be offered in-person, remotely and with mixed instruction, depending on curricular needs.

“Some students will choose or need to take all their classes remotely, and the university’s 19 schools and colleges will provide a robust set of fully remote classes that will enable most students to make that choice,” the university announced in a release.

Although not all courses will be available in every format, most students will be able to choose whether to return to Ann Arbor for a hybrid learning experience or study from home in a fully remote mode, Schlissel said.

Decisions about which courses and sections to offer in which formats will be made by schools, colleges and departments.

No large lecture halls

Large classes will still be offered this fall, but they’ll be held remotely, President Mark Schlissel announced.

That means students who had massive classes in lecture halls such as Chem 1800 or in the Modern Languages Building will likely be taking those online.

“We know that many faculty, staff and students have concerns about returning to in-person learning, teaching and work,” Sclissel said. “We’re continuing to develop plans to protect vulnerable members of our community—and will encourage students and employees with high levels of risk to teach, learn and support our mission remotely.

“Schools, colleges and units will work with individuals to every extent possible to address their concerns. We know that the pandemic has differential impacts on our communities.”

Since small classes will generally be offered in-person and medium classes will be categorized on a case-by-case basis, it’s possible discussions for larger classes could still be held in-person.

Safety adjustments

Many educational programs, activities and learning experiences are being adjusted to serve students during the pandemic. For example, students were allowed to participate in community engagement and career skills activities this summer after many internships were canceled.

Public health experts are advising university leaders on how to safely offer recreational sports for students.

“We now have the opportunity to begin a new journey together, equipped with the very best guidance and ideas from our leading scholars, innovative students and expert staff,” Schlissel said. “The pandemic won’t change our commitment to the members of our community.”

Schlissel said the plan depends on every member of the community following basic public health strategies, including social distancing, minimizing out-of-area travel, wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, symptom screening and quarantining, when needed.

He said the university will continue or strengthen actions such as clinical testing, contact tracing, cleaning and real-time monitoring of the spread of the virus.

“We will protect our students, faculty and staff with a broad array of research-based public health measures and tools,” Schlissel said. “We will make full use of our longstanding excellence in teaching and learning, both in person and online, and tap our innovative spirit to deliver a world-class Michigan educational experience in these most unusual times. And we will ask all of you to join in prudent health and safety actions that will embody our commitment to caring for one another.”

Dining hall capacity

Residence halls and dining facilities will be open around campus, but capacity will be reduced, university officials said.

As a way to feed students without overpopulating dining halls, more boxed meals will be offered.

‘Family units’

Most students live in communal settings, whether in residence halls or in off-campus houses and apartments, officials said.

The university will view these living arrangements as “family units,” and all students will be expected to follow public health guidelines, just as they would when living in their permanent residences, the university announced.

For example, the state of Michigan requires groups who aren’t from the same household to maintain at least six feet of distance in restaurants and public places.

University officials are working with students to define a shared commitment to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Social distancing

Students also will notice changes such as physical distancing requirements in libraries and other common spaces and buildings.

The state mandates people to keep at least six feet of distance in public places, and it appears U of M will follow those same regulations.

Staggered timelines

Michigan is planning to use staggered timelines for activities that would typically bring many people into the same space.

For example, move-in dates and dining halls will implement some kind of staggered format.

Students planning to live in residence halls will receive more specific information from Michigan Housing, and plans for fall will be shared in the weeks ahead, according to the university.

Bus changes

Buses are one of the top means of transportation for students at the Ann Arbor campus, especially those living on north campus.

Public transportation is a major concern during the COVID-19 pandemic. School buses are small, enclosed spaces with many common contact surfaces, including seats and bars to hold onto while buses are moving.

A group of experts is examining potential safety changes for the campus bus system, Schlissel said. Those details will be released in the future.


The university will purchase more hand sanitizer, masks and other forms of personal protective equipment to keep the university community safe, officials said.

Students, faculty and staff members will be urged to get seasonal flu shots and stay home when they feel sick. Everyone should closely monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 and other illnesses.

Plans and protocols for students and staff members who get infected with COVID-19 are being finalized, university officials said. U of M is building capacity for increased contact tracing.

Health screenings

Faculty and staff members will be able to do health screenings on their phones via a university website, according to Schlissel

Michigan has created a new tool that will make returning to campus smoother and safer, officials said.

The tool is expected to be available this week, along with more information about the process.

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Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.