Texas Tech tests the waters for fall semester by bringing 350 students to campus for summer classes

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The 350 students returning to the Texas Tech campus represent a small fraction of the 10,278 who are enrolled in the second round of summer courses, university President Lawrence Schovanec told The Texas Tribune. Texas Tech University

Around 350 students returned to Texas Tech University’s sprawling grounds in Lubbock on Tuesday, resuming in-person classes for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic closed the campus in March.

As one of the first major universities in the state to reopen its doors to students during the pandemic, Texas Tech is a test of what a large-scale collegiate return could look like this fall.

The 350 students returning to campus represent a small fraction of the 10,278 who are enrolled in the second round of summer courses, university President Lawrence Schovanec told The Texas Tribune. And the students will be spread across 30 classes, consisting mostly of performance-based studios, science labs and internship courses that are more challenging to deliver effectively online.

“That very small number is a safe number to see how our protocols and policies will proceed,” Schovanec said. “I would rather have this opportunity to look at how we implement these practices now, rather than doing it cold turkey on Aug. 24.”

The stakes are high: The reopening comes against a backdrop of rises in case counts across the state, a sharp increase in hospitalizations and political tension over mandatory mask enforcement.

Other universities that have pushed to reopen earlier in the summer instead of in August have backtracked on their plans. As late as July 1, Texas State University in San Marcos was set to open doors for an in-person summer session beginning earlier this week. Nearly 2,000 students were slated to be in face-to-face courses, and the school repeatedly expressed confidence in its ability to handle classes safely. The campus has the capacity for 38,000 students.

But just four days before the scheduled start date, school officials shut down reopening efforts after prolonged pushback from faculty and students, who pointed to rising COVID-19 cases among college-age individuals the university’s Hays County. People in their 20s accounted for slightly more than half of all the cases there in late June.