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Montana State University announced that it will begin its fall semester two weeks early to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The fall semester will begin Monday, Aug. 17, and end Wednesday, Nov. 25, shifting the semester’s courseload ahead by the same two-week period.

The change takes advantage of better weather earlier in the year and situates classes more squarely in a period when experts expect lower rates of COVID-19 cases, said MSU President Waded Cruzado.

“Our students have told us that finding a safe way to provide on-campus, in-person education is their preference,” Cruzado said. “These changes protect the safety and health of our students, faculty and staff while providing that quality educational experience.”

Cruzado noted that the calendar changes were made in consultation with faculty and student leaders, university planners, and campus, local and state health officials. The changes follow guidance from Montana Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian that encouraged campuses to design an academic calendar that allowed for an earlier finish.

In addition to the calendar changes, Cruzado said MSU will also implement strategies to combat the virus, including extensive education and hygiene measures, screenings and, if necessary, quarantine plans for on-campus resident students.

Due to the early end of the fall semester, MSU has also tentatively rescheduled its fall commencement for Sunday, Nov. 22, dependent on the public health situation at that time. The date was chosen to facilitate travel for families and to allow graduates to spend Thanksgiving with their loved ones, Cruzado said.

Key dates for the 2020-21 academic calendar include:

Monday, Aug. 17 - first day of classes for fall semester.

Wednesday, Nov. 25 - last day of fall classes.

Sunday, Nov. 22 - fall commencement ceremony

Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 - first day of the spring semester.

Cruzado emphasized the university’s appreciation for the community’s flexibility and collaboration.

“With COVID-19, we have learned to choose not between a good and bad option but rather between options that will afford the best long-term benefits for the most people in our community,” she said.

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