Letter to Alumni: Hope Ready

Dear Hope Alumni,

This week, we began our 159th academic year at Hope College. Throughout our history, we have opened in the midst of the Civil War, the World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Great Recession. We have opened in the midst of many challenging periods, but we’ve never begun a school year quite like this. 

Our faculty and staff have worked all summer long to prepare for opening in the midst of these unusual circumstances. As our students adjust to college life with masks and distancing, we wanted to share some of our preparation for safe and productive in-person instruction.

First, we made the decision over the summer to adjust our fall calendar.  Classes began on August 17th, two weeks earlier than originally planned, and our semester will conclude on Tuesday, November 24th (before Thanksgiving).  We also changed Fall Break to be two separate, midweek days off rather than the typical four day weekend.  These changes will limit movement to and from campus, helping mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  

In order to make sure that all our students — including those who will not be able to be on campus in the fall — stay on schedule for their planned graduation date, Hope’s course schedule for the fall semester includes in-person, hybrid and online classes. Hybrid courses feature a blend of in-person and online components.

In addition, the college has created a comprehensive, three-component COVID-19 testing plan specifically tailored to the Hope community and informed by the expertise of public health officials and our own faculty experts.

There is no better place to cultivate and spread hope through the world than a college for which true, biblical hope is a foundational identity.

Before arriving on campus, every student and employee was tested for COVID-19, most through a pre-arrival kit sent to their home. We administered a total of 3,979 COVID-19 tests, and of those, 99.04% were negative. Our 0.96% positive rate is significantly lower than the current national positive rate of 6.6% and the state positive rate of 2.5%.  A vast majority of the 38 positive cases were identified through the pre-arrival kit and are quarantining at home, and for the few that are on campus, we are prepared with robust isolation and quarantine housing protocols.

Second, we will test 1% of the students every weekday, in a strategy developed by Dr. Ben Kopek, an associate professor of biology with expertise in virology.  The sample size reflects a commitment to conducting successful surveillance while saving enough tests for clinical care of individuals.

Third, we will conduct wastewater testing to determine if the virus is present in specific residential zones on campus.  This innovative project is being led by faculty members Dr. Aaron Best, Dr. Brent Krueger and Dr. Mike Pikaart, who have long led water-quality research at Hope.  If the levels of the virus rise in a particular zone, we will conduct follow-up testing of residents. This will allow us to stay on top of, and mitigate the risk of, a potential outbreak.

While we have confidence in our testing plan, we realize that we’ll likely have cases on our campus this semester. We are prepared to respond, with testing available as soon as any student recognizes symptoms of COVID-19, and with quarantine space available for those who test positive.

We’re also taking many of the sorts of steps that you might expect.  For example, we’re promoting physical distancing by spacing desks in all classrooms six feet apart.  On campus, we’re all to wear masks, complete a daily screening form, and regularly sanitize our hands and spaces.

We’re undoubtedly signing up for a harder semester than if we continued the fully remote instruction that we implemented in March, but we see four compelling reasons for prioritizing in-person instruction.

First, our students want to be back! The vast majority (over 90%) want to be on campus.

Second, an in-person education, with students living and learning together, is the best education.  It’s why Hope has been committed to being a residential liberal arts college for more than 160 years.  That said, remote learning isn’t a poor substitute when done the Hope way.  We’ve been offering courses online since 1999 and infuse them with the same individual attention and character that we provide in person.

Third, an in-person experience is more equitable. Some students have good learning environments in their homes, while others do not. 

Finally, while this may be counterintuitive, we believe bringing students on campus is actually safer and more responsible. Since a large percentage will be living in the region regardless of the teaching modality, it’s better to have them on campus participating in our testing and monitoring programs.

As an institution of higher learning, this is an unparalleled opportunity for teaching moments! It is an opportunity for innovation, as we explore new modalities of teaching and think deeply about the future of learning. It’s also an opportunity for growth. As we are shaken out of old ways of thinking, we can look at the world with new eyes. 

Our students and faculty are happy to be back on campus, even though many things will be different this semester.  For example, fall sports have been postponed to the spring and chapel will be streamed remotely.   There are disappointments, but the spirit of our school is not to dwell on despair.  Rather we are a place that faces challenges with hope.

There is no better place to cultivate and spread hope through the world than a college for which true, biblical hope is a foundational identity.

We are going to learn a lot this semester.  And we’ll make some memories together too.

Spera in Deo!

Matthew A. Scogin

Join the Conversation


  1. I am 82 years-old, a two-time community college president and clearly have never face a leadership challenge as you are experiencing. Your institutional strategy and your the tone of your message does instill hope and underscores the deep thought of concern for the Hope College family. We have a granddaughter attending Hope College for the first time this fall and loves her beginning experience.
    Thank you for your communication and for inviting response.

    Bill Anderson

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