Just 8% of colleges are keeping classes online this fall, but more may join them as coronavirus outbreaks surge. Here’s the list so far.

A graduate gets ready to pose for a picture at the empty campus of San Diego State University, after the California State University system announced the fall 2020 semester will be online, May 13, 2020.
A graduate gets ready to pose for a picture at the empty campus of San Diego State University, after the California State University system announced the fall 2020 semester will be online, May 13, 2020.

Mike Blake/Reuters

After a semester of remote courses and online graduations, some colleges and universities are deciding not to return for in-person classes this fall.

California State University, the largest four-year public university system in the US, has cancelled in-person classes for the fall semester at all 23 of its campuses. Instead, classes will take place almost exclusively online, Chancellor Timothy White announced in May.

“Our university, when open without restrictions and fully in person… is a place where over 500,000 people come together in close and vibrant proximity,” White said at the meeting, according to the Los Angeles Times. “That approach sadly just isn’t in the cards now.”

Six of Harvard’s graduate and professional schools, including Harvard Medical School, have also announced that their students will take classes online in fall. The university told faculty that most instruction will likely remain online, including for undergraduates, according to WBUR. 

George Washington University student Jillian Kislow takes the final test of her semester in Techniques of Data Analysis online, in Pasadena, California, May 5, 2020.
George Washington University student Jillian Kislow takes the final test of her semester in Techniques of Data Analysis online, in Pasadena, California, May 5, 2020.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

However, just 8% of colleges are taking the online approach to fall, according to an analysis by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Most schools — 61% — are planning for in-person classes, while others are considering a hybrid approach, with some classes online and some in-person, or with blended classes.

The virus could easily spread between students and professors if they meet face-to-face in campus classrooms.

“Every way we approach the question of whether universities can resume on-campus classes, basic epidemiology shows there is no way to ‘safely’ reopen by the fall semester,” Shweta Bansal, Colin Carlson and John Kraemer — three health and biology professors at Georgetown University — wrote in The Washington Post.

 

 

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Congress in May that “the idea of having treatments available, or a vaccine, to facilitate the reentry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far.”

“Even at the top speed we’re going, we don’t see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school this term,” he said.

A disastrous coronavirus wave in the fall could hit colleges hard

Graduating Masters students from the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) gather the day before their online graduation ceremony, in Manhattan, New York City, May 15, 2020.
Graduating Masters students from the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) gather the day before their online graduation ceremony, in Manhattan, New York City, May 15, 2020.

Andrew Kelly/Reuters

In an April report, researchers at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy laid out three scenarios for what the next year and a half might look like.

One suggested that this first wave could be followed by a larger wave in the fall or early winter. After that would come one or more smaller subsequent waves in 2021.

possible pandemic wave scenario 4x3 copy
possible pandemic wave scenario 4×3 copy

Ruobing Su/Business Insider

It is unclear how the recent surge in infections across the US — which experts say is still part of the first wave — will affect the fall. But the fall-peak model mirrors what happened during the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic and the 2009 H1N1 flu.

A second wave of infections with an even higher peak might require US states (and other countries) to reinstitute mitigation measures like lockdowns.

“States, territories, and tribal health authorities should plan for the worst-case scenario,” the authors wrote.

However, when it comes to high schools, elementary schools, and kindergartens, there is little evidence that closures significantly prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some experts have recommended reopening these lower-level schools across the US.

Universities are a different story. Young adults travel from across the country — sometimes across the world — to live in dorms, eat in dining halls, hop between classes, and party together.

“If you were to design a place to make sure that everyone gets the virus, it would look like a nursing home or a campus,” Paul LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University, told The Atlantic.

Here are the colleges and universities that plan to remain online for the fall 2020 semester:

Many of the online-only plans make exceptions for residencies, healthcare worker training, laboratory work, research, and instruction that can’t happen virtually.

Aylin Woodward contributed reporting.

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