Mercyhurst University is committed to providing exceptional learning experiences to our students while prioritizing health and safety of the community. There are a number of adjustments to the academic programming for the Spring 2021 semester, and this page will provide those updates as they are finalized. 

Teaching and Learning During COVID-19

Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the mission of Mercyhurst University remains the same. We must continue to educate students to think and act critically, creatively, and ethically as productive members of society committed to transforming the world. Maintaining face-to-face teaching and learning opportunities for the Mercyhurst community while ensuring the safety of the entire community requires a creative and collaborative approach. 

Alternative Academic Calendar 

Mercyhurst will operate under an alternative academic calendar for the Spring 2021 Semester. 

Under this plan, the university will begin traditional classes on Monday, Jan. 25. Classes will continue uninterrupted through the traditional Spring Break in March. This streamlined approach is designed to limit student and faculty travel during the semester and limit the introduction of COVID-19 to the campus community from potential hot spots in other parts of the country or world as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Potential Teaching Modalities 

Mercyhurst University faculty will consider a variety of teaching modalities to accommodate the need to maintain physical distancing protocols while still providing students with a high-quality education. These modalities include expanding upon the successful hybrid learning model that was deployed for the Fall 2020 semester.

The Provost’s Office charged a Return to the Classroom Taskforce to provide recommendations for teaching strategies, software, workshops, and webinars throughout the summer. In collaboration with the Center for Teaching Excellence, faculty are preparing all classes for a variety of teaching modalities that may be required because of COVID-19. 

Mercyhurst will prioritize in-person instruction for courses where academic outcomes cannot be easily achieved or measured in virtual formats, including visual and performing arts classes, science laboratories, and health care clinical labs and experiences. 

The university may limit class sizes based on available classroom, studio or laboratory space and any government requirements limiting large gatherings. Instructional spaces will be reconfigured to allow for appropriate physical distancing. To accommodate public health concerns for faculty and students, instructors are prepared for spring instruction to take place in a variety of modes: fully in-person, blended in-person/online, and fully online. In some cases, a hybrid mode of instruction may be utilized where students may attend the same class both in-person or virtually on different days to limit the number of students in a given space at one time. 

Faculty will closely monitor and track in-person attendance in classes as well as seating arrangements in order to facilitate contact tracing in the event of an exposure. Attendance policies will be developed to support students who may become ill to assist with progress to course and semester completion. 

Faculty will continue to work with Academic Support and Learning Differences to provide reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities when remote work is necessary. 

In the event that Erie County moves to the Yellow or Red Phase and/or the university is not permitted to hold in-person classes due to local, state or federal regulations, Mercyhurst will move to an all-virtual format to provide for continuity of education. 

Academic Support and Services

Writing and Tutoring Centers will provide virtual and potentially limited in-person services. 

Clinical Placements 

Mercyhurst University relies significantly on clinical placements for nursing and health science related majors. Mercyhurst faculty involved in clinical placements, along with our Office of Institutional Effectiveness, continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation. The university will maintain consistent communication with accrediting bodies and licensing boards, state and local governmental agencies, and host healthcare organizations to determine the best options for students to participate in clinical placements. In the event a planned clinical placement is unavailable, Mercyhurst will work to find an alternative placement for the student. 

Student Teaching/Education Clinicals 

Mercyhurst expects student teaching will be permitted to occur during the Spring 2021 semester as Pennsylvania schools are allowed to open under Gov. Wolf’s plan to reopen Pennsylvania. However, it is unclear at this writing under what formats (face-to-face, virtual or hybrid) individual schools and school districts will return and whether schools will host student teachers. 

Following Pennsylvania Department of Education guidelines, Mercyhurst will work with student teachers on a case-by-case basis to complete student teaching and program requirements given the ongoing pandemic. 


Internships are an integral part of the Mercyhurst University experience. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic greatly altering the landscape for companies, we have been able to maintain many internships through remote situations and are working to expand these offerings. 

Study Abroad 

Mercyhurst has very limited study abroad programming planned for spring 2021 with no university-sponsored travel. Program planning for academic year 2021-2022 will be conducted through the Office of Global Programs, starting in February. In all cases, Mercyhurst will monitor CDC and State Department travel advisories on a regular basis and reserves the right to cancel any study abroad trip where travel would put students, faculty and staff at an elevated risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

Academic Building Traffic Flow

A Traffic Flow Identification Working Group has analyzed academic campus spaces and made recommendations for modifications to building ingress/egress; limiting directions in stairwells; and/or adjusting hallway traffic patterns as necessary. The group recommended specific directional signage throughout academic buildings on campus to assist students, faculty and staff in maintaining physical distancing during the change of classes. 

Class Size and Classroom Modifications Necessary for Social Distancing

Mercyhurst utilized a geometric maximization calculation to determine the theoretical maximum capacity for each campus classroom under the 6-foot social distancing guidelines. For rooms that could not be automatically calculated, the capacities were determined by hand (e.g. labs, art spaces, kitchens). Each classroom will have a capacity number posted as well as a diagram indicating appropriate spacing for student seating. 

Because face coverings are required per Governor Wolf’s order, the PDE and Mercyhurst University Policy, instructors are expected to either wear a face covering, be behind a barrier (for example, a sneeze guard), or be physically distanced from the students by no less than 6 feet. Instructors will approach enforcement of the face covering requirement as they do any other student conduct policy and may request that students leave the classroom unless properly equipped. The university has provided instructors with face coverings to offer to students who may forget to bring their own.