Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order Monday that allows higher education students studying for critical sectors and in their final semester to return to their campuses for necessary in-person exams.

Programs that fall under the governor's definition of critical sector include, but are not limited to, health care, law enforcement and public safety as well as transportation and logistics programs.

Among the 900 students at Duluth's Lake Superior College graduating next week, an estimated 200 enrolled in health and nursing and business and industry programs will be finishing exams and on-site hours needed before they can enter the workforce, Vice President of Institutional Advancement and External Relations Daniel Fanning said.

"When the state tells us that we can have hands-on training, this will be the students who've just been waiting," Fanning said. "And some of them are literally only waiting for a few hours to finish the program."

The bulk of the in-person hours and exams students need to complete before they can obtain their degrees are required by governing bodies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, for students enrolled in the aviation technician maintenance program.

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LSC is currently in exam week — the final week of its semester. However, the in-person exams for hands-on programs often take an extra week to wrap up anyway, Fanning said. Faculty and affected students will connect to set up times that work for them to meet in one-on-one or two-on-one settings.

Before students can return to campus, each school must create a preparedness plan that establishes social distancing guidelines, disinfecting protocols and health screenings to prevent sick people from entering the institution.

"It was a nice surprise," Fanning said of the governor's order.

At LSC, many of those students are enrolled in nursing, nursing assistant and medical assistant programs, along with aviation maintenance technology, fire technology, auto-service technology and welding programs.

As for the schools within the Northeast Higher Education District — Hibbing Community College, Vermilion Community College in Ely, Mesabi Range College in Virginia, Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids, and Rainy River Community College in International Falls — the nursing, nursing assistant and law enforcement programs are a few of the larger programs that will benefit from the limited in-person testing, Itasca Community College Provost Bart Johnson said.

"It's important for us to have the flexibility to make safe and smart decisions that allow students to continue in these academic programs," Johnson said. "I hope that this does open the door for other considerations for the summer and certainly as we go into fall."

While nursing students, for example, have been able to complete the program online, Johnson said they hadn't been able to test out of the program and get the state licenses before restrictions were lifted by executive order.

Some programs also require a few hours of in-person coursework and demonstrations before completion, Johnson said.

Prior to allowing students on campus, institutions do not need to submit their preparedness plans for pre-approval, according to the executive order. However, they do need to have it available upon request.