College students returning to campus amid COVID surge

Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 5:27 PM CST
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) - Some colleges are beginning their spring semesters as COVID cases continue to spike across the country.

Western Technical College is welcoming back more students this spring than last year, with enrollment up 4.6% from the Spring 2021 term.

There are more than 1,000 full-time students this spring, with total enrollment (including part-time students) equaling 3,488.

President Roger Stanford says overall enrollment is still down since the start of the pandemic, but some students are trying to get themselves back on track.

“We lost 11% of our students last year,” Stanford detailed. “This year, their mindset is I’m going to persevere, and I’m going to work around the conditions of COVID.”

However, students are returning to campus as COVID cases in La Crosse County have jumped to more than 2,000 over the last week.

Stanford says Western Tech’s student body hasn’t been hit that hard this year, but staff are continuing to monitor the evolving situation.

“Our case counts have not been as alarming as someone might think, but I will say Omicron in the last two weeks is a different story,” Stanford said. “As we’re seeing play out nationally, it’s truly everywhere.”

Winona State University is in a similar position, as its spring semester is starting while the county is dealing with a high transmission rate of COVID-19.

Due to the rising case numbers, President Scott Olson is imploring students to “lay low” for the first few weeks of the semester.

“Try to avoid big gatherings, try to be extra cautious, wear masks, maybe even when you wouldn’t have worn a mask before,” Olson said. “If you’re in a club or organization, move it onto Zoom to avoid what’s undoubtedly going to be a spike that Winona, and maybe Winona State’s going to be experiencing.”

Stanford has a similar request for students at Western Tech, saying social distancing and masking should be followed as best as possible.

If students have to miss time, Stanford assures that faculty will accommodate their situations.

“They [staff] have just gone above and beyond on second chances, on understanding that you may have to be out for three days, and you may have to come back at a different point because of COVID, or the health of your family,” Stanford expressed.

Viterbo University will begin its spring semester on Jan. 17, and UW-La Crosse will follow on Jan. 24.

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