Cal State University to Conduct Most Classes Online this Fall
Cal State University to Conduct Most Classes Online this Fall

Cal State University to Conduct Most Classes Online this Fall

The public university system in California joins a number of colleges planning a virtual semester to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Catherine Offord
Catherine Offord

Catherine is a senior editor at The Scientist.

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May 13, 2020


The California State University system is planning to offer most of its classes online in the fall semester, amid fears of a possible second wave of COVID-19 infections later this year, according to a statement made yesterday (May 12) by the university’s chancellor, Timothy White. Comprising 23 campuses serving nearly 500,000 students, CSU is the largest university system to announce such sweeping measures in advance of next year.

“First and foremost is the health, safety and welfare of our students, faculty and staff, and the evolving data surrounding the progression of COVID-19,” White says in the statement. “Virtual planning is necessary because it might not be possible for some students, faculty and staff to safely travel to campus. Said another way, this virtual planning approach preserves as many options for as many students as possible.”

The University of California (UC) said yesterday that it will probably pursue a similar strategy. “It’s likely none of our campuses will fully re-open in fall,” UC spokesperson Stett Holbrook writes in an email to CNN. “[UC] will be exploring a mixed approach with some material delivered in the classroom and labs settings while other classes will continue to be online.”

For now, universities planning all or partially online fall semesters remain in the minority nationwide. Of more than 350 institutions whose policies have been collected in a database by The Chronicle of Higher Education, nearly 70 percent are planning for in-person classes, while less than 15 percent are planning to hold all or some classes online.

How 366 universities are planning for the fall semester

The move to online teaching may bring its own problems for universities if it leads to a drop in student numbers—for example, if students defer their applications until in-person teaching resumes. US institutions have already raised concerns about reduced enrollment of international students due to travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic. Institutions could be facing “an incredible financial hit,” Dick Startz, an economist at UC, Santa Barbara, told The Scientist last month.

See “The Pandemic’s Effects on Recruiting International STEM Trainees”  

Some universities are already turning to wait lists to try to shore up student numbers, The New York Times reports. “People are coming off wait lists all over the place right now,” Debra Felix, a student advisor and former admissions director at Columbia University, tells the Times. “It tells me that the yeses are coming back very slowly, or people are getting back to them quickly with noes.”