Graciela Moran, the student-body president at California State University at San Bernardino, has been working with the university to prioritize the safety of students.
The fall semester is barely underway, but several colleges are already announcing their instruction plans for the spring. The bottom line, so far, is that few institutions will change their approaches — whether face to face, remote, or a mix of the two.
The California State University system is the most recent institution to do so, announcing on Thursday that all 23 of the campuses would continue to provide instruction virtually. “This decision is the only responsible one available to us at this time,” Chancellor Timothy P. White said in a news release. “And it is the only one that supports our twin North Stars of safeguarding the health, safety, and well-being of our faculty, staff, students, and communities, as well as enabling degree progression for the largest number of students,” he said.
John Barnshaw, vice president for research and data science at the consulting firm Ad Astra, said the trend is clear among the 500 colleges they work with: “If they’re building a course schedule, it’s remaining the same from fall to spring.”
The continuity is a reflection that those colleges feel what they are doing is successful, said Chris Marsicano, an assistant professor of the practice in educational studies at Davidson College. “If it’s working, why not just give people some certainty and extend into next semester?” he said.
The early announcements by institutions also give faculty members more time to prepare and students and parents a clear timeline for travel to and from campus, said Richard Muma, executive vice president and provost at Wichita State University.
Wichita State has also announced that it will continue to offer similar options for the spring semester. The university is giving students a choice between taking courses completely online, or a hybrid mode that combines limited in-person instruction and virtual content. More than 85 percent of courses are now in the hybrid mode, Muma said. “We learned to plan ahead,” Muma said. “It helps reduce the anxiety of students and faculty.”
The fact that several colleges are already announcing their spring semester plans is a big improvement from the fall, when so many institutions waited until mid- to late-summer to decide whether to allow any instruction on campus, Marsicano said.
And since the summer, there has been no treatment breakthrough or vaccine that would allow all campus activities to resume, he said. “The only major change that should change operating procedure would be a surprisingly early vaccine,” Marsicano said, and even then it wouldn’t be first distributed to normally healthy college-aged populations.
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