Eastern Arizona College employees began receiving COVID-19 vaccinations Thursday afternoon in preparation for classes to begin Jan. 19 and the college will also be offering testing to interested students Jan. 18.

EAC President Todd Haynie said roughly 90 employees lined up for their first dose of the vaccine Thursday and will receive their second dose Feb. 5.

Those employees who didn’t receive their vaccines will be able to reach out to the Graham County Health Department to schedule an appointment, he said.

Roughly 2,000 students are expected to return to the college’s main campus in Thatcher this semester compared to about 2,100 last January, said Susan Wood, vice president of academic and student affairs.

While fewer students are attending in-person classes, the number of credit hours is actually slightly higher than last year at this time because due to online courses, she said. In fact, classes are being offered five different ways — classroom, blended, live remote, web and dual enrollment.

Last year, students enrolled at the main campus were signed up to take 17,085 credit hours; this year that number is 18,040, said Shannon Seballos, director of accreditation and effectiveness.

“I think we’ve done an excellent job at marketing. I also think that students want to continue their education,” Wood said. “They are dedicated to getting that education, whether it’s so that they can get jobs right away or they can transfer. They don’t want to put their lives on hold. And so we’ve marketed. We’ve let them know that we’re open.”

Students in the 18-24 age group have especially shown “they want to come and they’re excited that EAC is open for business,” Wood said.

EAC has adopted all of the recommended safety guidelines and students appreciate the fact the dorms and library are open and they can still get tutoring, if necessary, Wood said.

“We recognize that especially those students who are 18 to 24 years old, they still want to have some sort of experience on campus. And we’re trying to do that in a safe way. We were able to do that in the fall semester in a safe way and we had low COVID numbers. And so we are attempting to do the same thing here in spring semester,” Wood said.

Wood said the college is also working with a local health clinic to offer COVID-19 testing every week.

“It will be roughly 25 students and they’ll sign up and roughly five staff, but it will be on a weekly basis,” Wood said. “I just don’t have the details yet, but there is a clinic in town that has a grant that will be able to help us with that.”

The college has already announced that students will not be taking a week-long spring break this year. Instead, they’ll be getting a few three and four day weekends, Haynie said. Because they won’t have an entire week off, the hope is they won’t travel and bring the virus back to campus, he said.

Wood said she would also like to send a message to potential nontraditional students — people who have been laid off from jobs or are looking to go back to school for other reasons.

“We have programs that can get people back to work very quickly, sometimes in as little time as one semester,” Wood said. “For example, somebody could come and become a nursing assistant in just one semester. They can get their HVAC certification. That’s heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration, in just one semester.”

In addition, students can get a Google IT Support certificate in one semester, she said.

Haynie said he is already getting questioned about the 2021 graduation ceremony.

“I’m being asked ‘Are you going to have commencement?’ And the answer is yes. We will have commencement. We just don’t know what it will look like. It could be anything from our traditional in- person gathering, which I doubt, I don’t think that’s likely, to a virtual commencement, which is what we did last year. It may be something in between, but we haven’t yet made a final decision on it. I’d like to make that decision as late as possible to ensure that we’re doing the right thing in the safest way possible.”

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