CONWAY, Ark. (March
12, 2021) — One year ago today, the Hendrix College community responded to
COVID-19 at the outset of a global health pandemic.
“A year ago, we
faced one of the most difficult issues that we have ever faced as an
institution,” said Hendrix President Ellis Arnold of the decision to suspend in-person
classes before Spring Break.
moved out of their residence halls, Hendrix faculty quickly transitioned to
online pedagogy, retooling their courses to complete the spring 2020 semester
online. The College continued with remote learning in the fall 2020 semester and
returned to in-person classes with hybrid options for remote participants beginning
Thanks to the
collective commitment of its community and a remarkable partnership with Conway
Regional Health System and neighboring institutions, Hendrix has been able to
manage coronavirus on campus. This spring, the College has experienced very low
(and often zero) positivity on campus from weekly testing, and nearly 90
percent of employees have received the COVID-19 vaccination.
“I am so grateful
to the Hendrix community for everything that has been done over the past year
to keep this campus healthy and safe,” said Arnold. “We could not have overcome
the challenges of the past year without the commitment from everyone on campus,
as well as Conway Regional Health System, whose generous partnership has been
so beneficial to Hendrix.”
energy required to confront COVID-19 successfully, Hendrix has also celebrated several
This fall, Hendrix was once again
listed among America’s Best Colleges for overall quality, value, and innovation
by U.S. News & World Report. The College rose eight spots on the 2021 Best Value Schools
list to claim the #32 ranking among
nationally ranked liberal arts colleges. A month later, Hendrix became an even
better value, announcing a 32%
reduction in tuition for students
entering Hendrix for the first time in the Fall 2021 semester. Applications for
Fall 2021 are currently up 32% over last year.
The College surpassed its $110 million
campaign goal a year ahead of schedule with $113 million in gifts and pledges. In
November, Hendrix received a $15 million gift from the Windgate Foundation, the largest
outright gift in Hendrix’s history. With the Windgate gift, the campaign, which
was scheduled to end in 2021, was expanded to $150 million and will extend to
2023. As part of the campaign expansion, Hendrix will launch a
multimillion-dollar Residence Hall Renewal Project to support renovations of
historic Martin and Veasey Halls. $10 million of the Windgate gift will provide
endowed scholarships for Hendrix students.
pandemic is certainly not over, we continue to do everything possible to keep Hendrix accessible and affordable to
students and families and to ensure that Hendrix remains one of the country’s
leading liberal arts colleges for academic quality, innovation, and value,”
Looking Back & Making Plans
campus last spring, the College refunded unused housing and meal plans,
distributed emergency funds provided by the government, and provided technical
support to assist students with remote courses. Touchstone traditions like
Alumni Weekend and year-end celebrations were canceled, along with all summer
programs and many engaged learning experiences, including internships,
undergraduate research, and international travel programs. Other campus events
such as Honors Day Convocation and Commencement were held virtually.
While in-person summer programs at
Hendrix were called off, President Arnold convened a steering committee with
representatives from across campus to implement health and safety protocols for
the community and develop a plan for the fall semester.
“When the steering committee first
convened, the amount of data and details to digest and consider seemed overwhelming.
We needed to consider everything from securing enough facemasks and sanitizer
to improving HVAC systems to redesigning dining and residence life services,”
said Dr. Peter Gess, Associate Provost for Engaged Learning, who was appointed to
serve as Campus COVID-19 Response Coordinator.
“I am quite proud of the work of the
steering committee, the senior leadership team, and indeed the entire Hendrix
community in developing our fall opening plan,” said Gess. “Ultimately, there
were simply too many factors out of our control.
“In July we continued to see increasing
cases and testing positivity in Arkansas, indicating uncontrolled spread of the
virus in Conway and around the state. However, it was testing turn-around time
that gave us the most pause,” he said. “Some of our employees were waiting a
week to 10 days for test results. There is simply no way to manage a virus on a
residential campus with those kinds of testing result delays.”
Ultimately, the College
concluded that a fully remote fall semester was in the best interest of students,
faculty, and staff.
The Keys to Success
As fall semester progressed with remote
teaching and learning, the Steering Committee and the Senior Leadership Team had
the opportunity to learn much from the struggles of other colleges and
universities during the pandemic. The most important progress came through the
Hendrix partnership with Conway Regional Health System and the other colleges
“Suddenly, through the amazing,
unselfish, and proactive help of experts at Conway Regional, our important
testing protocols fell in place,” Gess said. “We were able to implement a
gateway and surveillance testing system to keep our students, faculty, and
staff safe from day one of the spring semester.”
Conway Regional medical staff collect
the samples and send them off to Natural State Labs in North Little Rock, so
Hendrix has consistently received test results in one day or less, which is critical
to managing the virus on campus, Gess said.
“We tested all students as they
returned to campus. Even though the Central Arkansas background positivity was
nearly 20% as we started moving in students in January, our overall gateway
positivity was less than 2%. Surveillance testing throughout this semester has
remained well below 1%,” he said. “We are very proud of our students for
following important protocols such as masking, social distancing, and
hand-washing to protect themselves and the community.”
Beyond testing, the most crucial step
the College took was to develop and train its own internal contact-tracing and
quarantining team, led by Tim Purkiss, Director of Summer Programs.
“While the Arkansas Departments of
Health and Education developed a UAMS-based system for higher education in the
state, having our own contact tracing system allowed for rapid response to
positive test results,” said Purkiss. “Quickly isolating positive students and
employees and quarantining close contacts allowed us to prevent any spread on
The spring semester opening strategy
incorporated many other changes as well.
“As much as possible, we house one
student per residence hall or apartment room to decrease student density. We
maintain six-foot social distancing in all classrooms, which required incorporating
non-traditional teaching spaces, such as ballrooms and gyms. We eliminated
spring break from the semester calendar. We increased time between classes to
more carefully move people. Dining Services added several online ordering and
take-out options. Student activities have been primarily online or outdoors.
Intercollegiate athletes have been subjected to additional testing and
protocols,” Gess explained. “You won’t find a single office or activity at
Hendrix unaffected by these changes.”
Ultimately, the Hendrix community
demonstrated its confidence in the spring opening plan. About 87% of students
returned to campus for in-person instruction, and about 80% of classes are taught
the College is finalizing health and safety protocols for Honors Day
Convocation and Commencement and preparing for the fall 2021 semester.
A private liberal
arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns
recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is
featured in Colleges
That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About
Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix
as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876,
Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To
learn more, visit www.hendrix.edu.