65% of colleges are preparing for in-person classes this fall

A student wears a facemask at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, California on March 11, 2020
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Starting in March, colleges began a months-long confrontation with the coronavirus pandemic. Schools closed their campuses, moved classes online and adjusted their admissions policies

Now, many schools are facing difficult decisions about the upcoming fall semester, namely, should students be brought back to campus? 

Many schools have delayed making such verdicts in hopes of making as informed of a decision as possible, but slowly schools are starting to reveal their plans for the year ahead. 

The Chronicle of Higher Education has tracked over 1,000 colleges since April and has found that roughly 65% of schools are preparing for in-person classes this fall.

One school preparing for in-person classes is Tulane University. The school plans to have students living on campus in the fall and plans for classes to be held in-person. But the school will also attempt to reduce classroom density and will shorten the semester by ending classes before Thanksgiving break. "This accelerated semester is intended to reduce travel in order to promote health and safety," said the school in a statement.

Such a calendar adjustment is common among schools that are hoping to bring students back to campus in the fall, such as the University of Texas, Austin

"Students will not return after Thanksgiving and, instead, will participate in reading days and final exams remotely. With Covid-19 still expected to be active this fall, we hope to avoid the possibility of students becoming infected during the Thanksgiving break and then spreading the virus to classmates upon their return after Thanksgiving," said the school's president and interim president in a statement. 

In contrast, Harvard University is preparing for most classes to be held online. In an email, university administrators told faculty that "it seems likely that, under any circumstances, most of our instruction will be online." 

"Our goal is to bring our students, faculty, postdoctoral fellows and staff to campus as quickly as possible, but because most projections suggest that Covid-19 will remain a serious threat during the coming months, we cannot be certain that it will be safe to resume all usual activities on campus by then. Consequently, we will need to prepare for a scenario in which much or all learning will be conducted remotely," said the university in an April statement

About 14% of the schools The Chronicle is following have proposed what has become known as a "hybrid model" for the fall. Hybrid models include a wide range of plans but typically involve some in-person learning and online learning. 

For instance, the University of Southern California has announced that some classes will be offered online, some classes will be taught in-person and some classes will combine in-person and virtual instruction. 

Northwestern University is also categorized by The Chronicle as a school that is embracing a hybrid model. The school currently says that "a significant portion of fall instruction will be conducted remotely" but indicates that in-person learning will vary across disciplines, schools and departments.

According to The Chronicle, 8% of the schools are still considering a range of scenarios, 8% are planning for classes to be held online and nearly 5% are still waiting to decide.

The University of Pennsylvania is one of those schools still considering a range of scenarios. According to a survey from the school's newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, over 53% of the University of Pennsylvania's students prefer a hybrid model of instruction with classes conducted both online and in-person and about 32% of students prefer returning to campus for entirely in-person instruction. 

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