Colleges across the country are considering options for how to operate during the upcoming academic year, yet so far, few have committed publicly to either reopening their campuses or holding classes online.
On Monday, California State University at Fullerton became one of the first to announce intentions to pursue the latter path—at least to start the fall semester. In a town hall meeting for administrators, faculty and staff, provost Pamella Oliver asked professors to start preparing now for autumn virtual classes, reports NPR and student newspaper Daily Titan.
“I wish that I could give you a definite answer and tell you this is exactly what we’re going to do, because I certainly would like to have some definite answers,” Oliver said. “But, what I do know is that our plan is to enter virtually, and then to also have in mind what would we do to enter gradually and to have flexibility as we do it.”
Cal State Fullerton is the only one of 23 campuses in the California State University system to make a decision so far, reports the L.A. Times.
In developing plans for fall 2020 and beyond, college leaders will most likely follow health and safety guidance from local and state officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, representatives of higher ed associations told EdSurge last week.
That may mean colleges will act differently depending on where they’re located. For example, California’s governor said on April 14 that the state is still weeks away from even considering loosening state restrictions, while governors in Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina are already making plans to lift stay-at-home and social distancing rules.
Colleges may also try to delay announcing firm plans to take classes online in the fall just in case it becomes possible to reopen campuses instead. Closures have cost institutions millions of dollars—and in the case of the University of Michigan, maybe even as much as $1 billion.
“They want to be as flexible as possible” until they’re “at a point where they can make a definitive choice,” says Pete Boyle, vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. “They want to make sure that incoming students know what they're going to do and what to expect and what the environment is going to look like.”
Until more institutions commit to plans, Boyle adds, “it’s probably about 50/50 whether the fall will be online or not.”