Schools nationwide face extraordinary pressure to reopen campuses to ensure they maintain enrollment and collect tuition revenue. But many are delaying announcements about fall plans until June or July as they game out tricky scenarios about how to house and teach students without running undue health risks.
The state flagship university in South Carolina, which ordinarily enrolls about 34,000 students on its campus in Columbia, announced May 6 it intends to bring students back in August. On Sunday, the university followed up with a plan to run a compressed semester that cancels a usual two-day break on Oct. 15 and 16 in the interest of minimizing the chances student travel will spread the virus.
“I realize that students and faculty look forward to getting away and recharging in the middle of the semester, and I appreciate that many of you will not be pleased with the decision to cancel Fall Break,” university President Bob Caslen wrote in a message to the community. “These changes are part of the new normal that all of us must embrace as we return to campus for work and study, and they are necessary for us to successfully resume in-person instruction. Most importantly, they reflect our top priority: your health, safety and wellbeing.”
Caslen wrote that the plan to switch to online instruction after Thanksgiving is meant to avoid a potential public health threat. The university’s “best current modeling predicts a spike in cases of COVID-19 at the beginning of December, which also will likely coincide with traditional flu season,” he wrote.
The South Carolina calendar calls for students to start in Columbia on Aug. 20 with face-to-face instruction ending Nov. 24. From that point, classes and exams will held remotely until the semester ends Dec. 14.
Whether and how universities such as South Carolina can resume intercollegiate sports, including high-profile college football, remains an open question. The South Carolina Gamecocks are scheduled to open their football season Sept. 5 against Coastal Carolina University and end Nov. 28 — two days after Thanksgiving — in a matchup with cross-state rival Clemson University.
Caslen’s announcement Sunday made no mention of football. University officials have said their top concern is campus health and safety.
A retired Army lieutenant general, Caslen took office at South Carolina last year after serving as superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy.
On Monday, the University of Notre Dame said it plans to bring students back for a semester to start on Aug. 10. That is two weeks earlier than normal. The private Catholic research university in Indiana, with more than 12,000 students, will forgo a fall break and end its semester before Thanksgiving.
Last week Marquette University also announced a plan that resembles South Carolina’s. The private Jesuit university in Milwaukee, with more than 11,000 students, said Friday it intends to start undergraduate classes on campus in late August if public health conditions permit. It will halt in-person instruction Nov. 24.
“Students then will have the opportunity to move out for the semester prior to the Thanksgiving holiday,” Marquette wrote Friday in a message to its community. Final exams would be conducted remotely.
California State University, the largest four-year public university system in the country, said last week it plans to open with most classes in a remote format for its 482,000 students. Cal State’s chancellor, Timothy White, told the online news site EdSource: “We feel that we’re taking the right prudent approach, to be prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.”
Susan Svrluga contributed to this report.