Incoming UNLV freshman Lia Cheung logged into the school’s online student portal from her home in Miami every day this summer to check on the status of her fall classes.
At first they were slated to be in a hybrid format — a mix of in-person and remote instruction — but were switched to fully online about two weeks ago amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in Southern Nevada. By then, Cheung, 18, already had planned her trip to Las Vegas to move into her dorm.
Cheung, who plans to study hospitality management, was among the first 150 students arriving at campus housing on Monday.
“Vegas is obviously a great place for that,” Cheung said of her course of study, as her parents helped her disinfect surfaces in the double-occupancy room in the Dayton Complex.
Despite the loss of at least some in-person learning initially, Cheung said she’s excited about starting college, living on campus and getting to know her roommate, who is from Colorado, and suite-mates from Hawaii.
“I definitely love to socialize and meet new people,” she said.
As for attending classes, she’ll tune in online from her dorm room, which she could have done just as easily from Miami.
For their part, her parents appeared to be fine with the unexpected turn of events.
UNLV, which has approximately 30,000 students, will being its fall semester next Monday, the same day Clark County School District classes resume. The university plans to offer nearly 80 percent of its classes in a remote format durng the fall semester, but some students are still choosing to live on campus.
UNLV’s dorm move-in week continues through Saturday and will extend two more days than usual. That’s so move-in days and times could be staggered in order to limit crowding and promote social distancing. In total, 150 students will arrive each day at the university’s four dorms.
About 1,000 students are moving in for fall semester — down about 400 compared with a typical year.
While students and parents were experiencing some of the typical emotions on Monday’s move-in day, there was an added level of anxiety due to the pandemic.
“The reaction has been very different because it’s a different time,” said Richard Clark, assistant vice president for student services at UNLV, who oversees student housing.
Some students who are living on campus this fall are taking 100 percent of their classes online, but want a traditional college experience, he said.
Normally, there’s music playing and a party-like vibe to welcome students moving into dorms. But on Monday, it was quiet outside the Dayton Complex, with only a handful of families coming and going.
Dayton Complex, which is for first-year students, will have 378 residents for fall semester. This year’s maximum occupancy is about 440.
Leniency on housing contracts
UNLV officials are being lenient and granting releases with no penalty from student housing contracts and the option to defer to spring semester, for students who planned to live on campus but had all online classes and are opting to stay home, Clark said.
That has a financial impact on the university. Students pay $2,940 per semester for a double occupancy room in the Dayton Complex, plus meal plans range in price from $2,082 to $2,623 per semester.
A student who’s taking in-person classes this fall at UNLV, though, will be charged a $500 cancellation fee and prorated rent for their time in housing if they change their mind and don’t want to live on campus, Clark said. He said some exceptions are being considered on a case-by-case basis.
Also, UNLV released an addendum to housing contracts saying that if the campus gets completely shut down again due to the pandemic, students will get a refund for their room and board.
When schools were closed in mid-March, UNLV shut its residence halls and told students to move out. But some students who weren’t able to return home or didn’t have any other housing options were allowed to stay on campus.
Nearly 30 students lived in UNLV housing this summer, a handful of whom were enrolled in summer classes. Most were participants in the UNLV HOPE Scholars Program that serves homeless youth.
How dorm life will be different
Students in campus housing had a choice between single or double occupancy room this year, but the university isn’t offering triple occupancy rooms. Another difference: In years past, freshmen weren’t allowed to live in a single occupancy room.
The biggest challenge is how to make the campus living experience as positive as years past when there aren’t as many in-person activities, Clark said.
Most student life programming will be held virtually. Any in-person residence hall activities will be capped at 50 percent of the room’s occupancy and have social distancing guidelines in place.
But despite the restrictions, Clark said he still expects students will make friends and spend time together. “The reality is our students are social beings.”
In addition to extra cleaning and signage in residence halls, there are rules limiting the number of guests. Everyone must wear a mask in common areas, but students can take them off inside their own rooms.
UNLV’s dining commons are open, but there’s a limit on how many people are allowed at a time and students must practice social distancing. The food service provider, Aramark, also has expanded its grab and go menus.
There are limited services in the Student Union, Clark said, and the Student Recreation & Wellness Center and university libraries are also open.
A total of 12 dorm rooms, each with a private bathroom, are being left vacant in case a student becomes ill with COVID-19 and needs to quarantine, Clark said.
Aramark would deliver meals and UNLV’s health center would provide telemedicine appointments for the ill students in such cases, he said.
UNLV plans to provide a flu shot clinic in residence halls, Clark said. And if a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available in the future, there will also be clinics held in dorms.
‘I’m so excited’
Families negotiated narrow dorm hallways and tight rooms Monday at the Dayton Complex, but many hallways were empty and many rooms had closed doors.
Cheung and her parents arrived in Las Vegas on Saturday and took a road trip to see the Grand Canyon before coming back to town.
Cheung’s mother Sonia Louissaint said she’s excited for her daughter and appreciated how UNLV had contracted with a company to help move student belongings into Dayton Hall on move-in day. The high temperature was expected to hit 110 degrees.
As a parent, she said she has anxiety about Cheung moving away from home — both in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the usual safety concerns — but noted her daughter is old enough to make her own decisions.
Shortly after Cheung talked with the Review-Journal, she opened her dorm room door and saw a girl across the hallway unpacking. They introduced themselves and the first question thrown out was “where are you from?”
Amanda Nowak, an 18-year-old who hails from Henderson and is a Green Valley High School graduate, plans to study nursing at UNLV. She also moved into her double occupancy room Monday at the Dayton Complex.
Nowak said there are a lot of benefits to living on campus, both academically and socially. Plus, she said, she wanted to get away from home and enjoy some freedom, and give her parents space as well.
“I’m so excited,” she said while in her dorm room as her parents were setting up a mini refrigerator. “It’s a little sad not having in-person classes.”
Her fall classes are being held remotely, with the exception of one in-person English class.
Nowak said she likes how UNLV spread out move-in days so it wasn’t so crowded. “It’s been great, actually.”
Over the summer, Nowak chatted with her assigned roommate — who lives in California — but her roommate decided to stay home and attend her classes virtually for fall semester. It means Nowak will end up with someone else in her double occupancy room within the next three weeks.
She said her assigned roommate wants to come to campus this spring and she hopes they’ll meet in the future.
What other colleges are doing
University of Nevada, Reno, will kick off its dorm move-in week Tuesday and it will continue through Saturday for its 12 residence halls, the university said in a Monday news release.
About 2,400 students are expected to move in. Students and their families chose a day and time to move in, and they’re being asked to limit guests, UNR said.
One of the biggest changes this year: UNR residence halls will accommodate no more than 50 students per floor to begin fall semester.
Nevada State College in Henderson is experiencing construction delays on its first-ever on-campus student housing, so the move-in date has been pushed back to Oct. 1.
The college has notified students and they have a few options: commuting from home until the building is completed and receiving a lease with an adjusted contract amount, staying in temporary housing (likely, at a nearby hotel) or canceling their lease without penalty.
Construction on the 342-bed housing village, an approximately $33 million project, kicked off in fall 2019. The Village at Nevada State College is privately financed, built and managed project.
College of Southern Nevada, a community college with three main Las Vegas Valley campuses, doesn’t have dorms.
Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.