Mount Royal University says that in spite of COVID-19, registration this fall is up over last year by about 1.4 per cent.
The university said that increase was seen in its programs from health and education to business, sciences, arts and aviation. It follows an increase of 30 per cent in registration in the spring and summer terms when compared with the same terms in 2019.
President and vice-chancellor Tim Rahilly said that over the course of the pandemic there had been a lot of conjecture that enrolment would not be strong.
"I think we saw people saying in the media that, 'Oh, what an excellent time to take a gap year or make other plans,'" he said. "And so we worked hard and made sure that our students were aware of our offerings, and we're delighted to see that there is strong enrolment."
Some courses approved for in-person learning
Rahilly said he's not aware of any areas where MRU saw a specific decrease in enrolment.
There will be nearly 15,000 students working toward 35 majors in 12 bachelor degrees, with more pursuing diplomas and opportunities through the continuing education and the conservatory programs.
Rahilly said MRU students and faculty will largely be dealing with alternative delivery online, but there are a number of programs that do require face-to-face interactions. He said MRU has taken an "exception-based approach" to in-person learning — nearly 100 courses and roughly 50 work placements have been approved to run in-person during the fall semester.
"We have a number of programs like nursing and midwifery. We have an aviation program. We have a massage therapy program. And, of course, we have some science courses that have labs," said Rahilly.
One of the first cohorts back on campus included 59 massage therapy students in their final year.
"We need to make sure that people are healthy but we also need to make arrangements for people to get the hands-on experience that they need in order to reach their academic goals."
Masks will be mandatory on campus, health guidelines must be followed and all classrooms and learning spaces on campus will be operating at about one-third of capacity.
Rahilly said students studying in a program that does have an in-person requirement doesn't mean all their classes will be in-person.
For those participating in a work placement — for example, nursing students — Rahilly said they will be following their workplace guidelines.
"I think it's fair to say that the health authorities have a strong handle on this in terms of universal precautions," he said. "Our students will be learning in the clinical setting, hands-on, what this has been like during this pandemic, which is excellent learning but obviously an extraordinary circumstance."
'I really think that our faculty and staff are heroes'
While the transition to remote, online learning was sudden last spring, Rahilly said faculty have had more time during the summer to prepare for this semester.
"This may sound like an exaggeration but I really think that our faculty and staff are heroes in terms of what they've been doing," he said.
"Faculty at Mount Royal are known for strong student interaction. They're known for small classes. They're known for knowing their students names. And for them, this is a tremendous shift," he said.
"We want to make sure, and they are working hard to make sure, that that quality of interaction is maintained even though they may be doing it using their computers or alternative software."
Throughout the summer, Rahilly said, MRU has been running its "Getting Ready" campaign in order to help students navigate the digital learning environment with additional support and resources.
"There are a number of videos to help students understand what the expectations are of them," he said.
"I think for returning students it's less of a question mark. But you can imagine if you were a brand new student coming to university for the first time and you weren't spending that amount of time on the physical campus that it would be a very different experience."
Student services moved online
He said that since March the school has been transitioning almost all of its on campus supports and services online. For example, students can speak with a counsellor as well as learning specialist online, and access library services remotely.
But in-person services including the health centre and the first-floor of the library will remain open.
The campus recreation centre will open during the second week of September, under enhanced health guidelines, encouraging physical distancing and enhanced cleaning of equipment.
"We're doing everything we can to be as operational as we can, meanwhile making sure that we don't spread coronavirus," he said.
Mount Royal students will begin classes Sept. 3.