Carleton College campus from the west.

The plan outlined below draws upon the advice of medical and public health experts, as well as research conducted on campus and in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Health. We have been intentionally flexible in constructing our approach, providing for a variety of contingencies, and we will remain nimble and forward-looking as we rigorously monitor the implementation of our plan and watch how events unfold.


Key Points

  • Up to 85% of our student body can be accommodated in Northfield this fall, in accordance with our regular academic calendar. We settled upon this target as a result of an extensive walk-through of the campus by an epidemiologist from the MDH who is working with the State’s higher education institutions.
  • No student is required to return to campus in order to continue their Carleton education this fall, and no faculty member is required to teach in person. The health of our community members remains our top priority, and we are committed to making equitable accommodations for those who determine that it is in their best interest to remain off-campus.
  • Health monitoring and personal accountability are expected. COVID-19 testing is being administered for everyone who returns to campus, and new community standards require all students, faculty, and staff to monitor their health daily, wear face masks when in common spaces, and abide by new restrictions regarding gatherings and visitors.
  • We are offering a hybrid curriculum. Some classes are offered in person, some are offered online, some utilize both in-person instruction and online engagement, and some are “mixed mode” classes with some students online and some in person. These varied delivery methods are necessary in order to manage classroom spaces and accommodate students and faculty who are working and studying remotely.
  • International students whose visas are at risk have been prioritized for in-person education. Some international students are required to take in-person courses in order to maintain their visas. To ensure they have the ability to remain in the United States, they received priority registration for in-person, hybrid, and mixed mode courses.
  • Our Fall Term academic calendar has not changed. Classes begin on Monday, September 14, and end on Monday, November 23.

Our Health Management Strategy

Testing and Caring for Our Community

Robust testing, symptom monitoring, contact tracing, and quarantine and isolation processes are essential to our ability to track the incidence of COVID-19 on campus and mitigate its spread. We consulted with several health experts to guide our plans, including Michael Huey, MD, FACHA, former associate professor at the Emory University School of Medicine and co-author of the American College Health Association guidelines for re-opening higher education institutions; Carleton Trustee Lia Gore, MD, of the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado; and several epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists within the State of Minnesota.

All students, faculty, and staff are undergoing testing for COVID-19 upon their initial return to campus. Testing will continue throughout the term as symptoms and contact tracing require. A further regime of surveillance testing will be established to heighten safety. We are contracting with the Mayo Clinic to carry out this effort. Likewise, all on-campus students, faculty, and staff are required to self-monitor and self-report their symptoms daily in order to ensure swift action if signs of illness arise.

>>> FAQs on Testing and Contact Tracing

>>> FAQs on Student Health

Cleaning and Sanitizing

Enhanced cleaning and sanitizing practices are in place on campus. All public spaces will continue to be cleaned and disinfected daily in all buildings. When community transmission is low in our region, classrooms will be thoroughly sanitized at least once per day and sanitization supplies will be provided in each classroom for individual use. The frequency of classroom cleaning will be increased if the level of community transmission increases.

We have flexibly scheduled classes to create opportunities for additional sanitization throughout the day. We have also increased the amount of fresh air that is exchanged in classrooms, taken additional steps to manage room air quality, and are using outdoor learning spaces, as weather permits.

>>> FAQs on Cleaning and Disinfection

>>> Enhanced Cleaning and Disinfection Protocols

>>> Facility Operations Impact

Community Standards

Carleton’s culture of shared accountability and respect is ever more important this fall. We have an obligation to protect one another and the members of the Northfield community, and we all must take that responsibility seriously. Therefore, all on-campus students, faculty, and staff are required to sign a covenant that sets expectations on how we will abide by the College’s heightened health and safety standards.

All students, faculty, staff, contractors, and visitors are required to know and follow best practices related to physical distancing, face masks, and frequent hand washing. These are the most important individual public health actions we can take to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep everyone safe. Among the changes we have implemented for fall term: all members of our campus community must wear a face mask in common spaces; visitors are discouraged from coming to campus; no in-person Convocations or large assemblies will be held; and the number of people attending events and social gatherings will be restricted to comply with State of Minnesota guidelines. 

>>> FAQs on Campus Expectations

>>> The Carleton Community Covenant

The Academic Experience

Changes in the Classroom

In academic spaces, we are promoting six-foot physical distancing and minimizing transmission through infected surfaces or aerosols. This includes both modifying room layouts by reducing the density of available seats and implementing behavioral changes, such as wearing face masks. In-person class meetings are limited to 30 students. Some class sizes have been reduced, with some larger classes offered as hybrid courses, with whole-class engagement taking place online and smaller subsets of the class meeting in person.

New building and classroom ingress and egress patterns have been established to reduce the number of face-to-face contacts during peak traffic periods. In order to support physically distanced traffic flow, the passing periods have been increased to 20 minutes, and the final period of each schedule type (6a and 5-6c) has been moved to the evening, beginning at 7 p.m.

>>> Facility Operations Impact

Changes to the Curriculum and Course Registration

Classes that must take place in person, such as studio arts, performing arts, or science labs, are being held with smaller numbers of students than normal. Many courses are taking place as a hybrid of in-person and online instruction. Some courses are being offered simultaneously to both in-person and online students (mixed mode). About half of our courses are offered entirely online.

In-person and hybrid courses are available only to students living on campus or in Northfield, while mixed mode and online-only courses are available to all students.

>>> FAQs on Fall Courses and Registration

Life Outside the Classroom

Student Housing

Our residential spaces were thoroughly reviewed by an MDH epidemiologist, and we have made adjustments to ensure appropriate physical distancing or family-style living. Students living in traditional residence halls have fixed furniture arrangements for proper distancing. Those living in townhomes and interest houses are considered family units who will quarantine together in the event that a house member is exposed to COVID-19.

>>> FAQs on Housing

Campus Dining

Our dining halls have shifted to an all-day service model, allowing for greater flexibility and eliminating congestion in dining spaces. For those who wish to take their meals to go, Dining Services will soon deploy an app for ordering from Sayles Café and providing to-go containers in the dining halls. Other safety measures in our dining spaces include physically distant queues and seating arrangements; plexiglass barriers between dining staff and diners; and strict sanitizing processes for tables, utensils, and shared spaces. All diners are required to wash their hands before entering food service lines. All food service staff are undergoing pre-work temperature checks and wearing face masks and gloves when in contact with diners and as their jobs safely allow.

>>> FAQs on Dining

Athletics and Activities

Sports play an important role in the Carleton experience for many students, but due to health and safety concerns, our varsity, club, and other athletic sports teams and organizations are not able to participate in traditional competition this fall. The risks associated with regular travel and contact with students from other schools are too great, both to our athletes and coaches, and to our campus community. Student-athletes are, however, permitted to practice and train on campus, and our campus recreation spaces are open with safety protocols in place.

Student organizations, traditions, and events are also an integral and treasured part of the Carleton experience, and we are committed to making as many of these opportunities available as possible.

>>> FAQs on Activities and Athletics

Returning to Campus

Student Protocols

We will welcome students to campus in phases, with Resident Assistants and some peer leaders being the first to return, followed by first-year students, and then returning students.

>>> FAQs on Move-In/Arrival

Planning for Faculty and Staff

With a continued focus on health and safety, staff are returning to campus in phases. Decisions about who returns to campus, when, and how often were made by divisional vice presidents in collaboration with supervisors and Human Resources, based on the critical functions of positions and the necessity to access on-campus resources.

>>> FAQs for Staff

>>> FAQs for Faculty

Financial Impact

Budget Forecast

Carleton’s budget for fiscal year 2021 was approved in February before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Subsequent changes were made to reflect evolving facts and more realistic assumptions. The College will be drawing down a significant portion of its reserves to cover one-time expenses we expect to incur according to this plan, including a comprehensive testing regime, hotel-based housing, personal protective equipment, and other necessary supplies. Taking all of this into account, Carleton expects to run a substantial deficit in fiscal year 2021, with additional projected deficits continuing annually for the following five years.

Cost-Saving Measures

The financial impact of the pandemic on the College is significant. Among the steps we are taking to reduce the deficit and to ensure Carleton’s stability now and in the future are:

  • limiting staff hiring
  • reducing departmental budgets
  • delaying some capital projects
  • freezing faculty and staff wages
  • a six-month suspension of College contributions to faculty and staff retirement accounts
  • six-month pay cuts of 10-15% for the senior leadership team

Tuition and Fees

Tuition for the academic year remains unchanged from the previously announced 2020-21 amount. As was the case during Spring Term 2020, students who do not live in one of the College’s housing options are not charged room and board.

Our revised budget plan for fiscal year 2021 incorporates reserves for financial aid, including contingencies for students with more financial need than might have been expected before the pandemic. We remain committed to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of every Carleton student.

>>> FAQs on Finances