CSU Campuses to Keep Classes Online for Spring Semester

The Student Union building at CSU Long Beach (2015). (Chris/Flickr)

Officials at California State University, the country’s largest four-year public university system, said last week that classes at all 23 campuses will stay primarily online when the next term begins in January, due to expected increases in coronavirus cases later this year.

“This decision is the only responsible one available to us at this time,” Chancellor Timothy White said in a message to faculty, staff and 480,000 undergraduate students.

In May, CSU was among the first large U.S. universities to announce that most classes this fall would be online because of the pandemic. Currently, less than 10% of courses like labs and other hands-on classes are being taught in person, and on-campus housing has been significantly reduced.

“The virus continues to spread. There is no vaccine and there likely will not be one widely available any time soon,” White said. “A larger wave continues to be forecast for the period between October and December, coupled with seasonal influenza; this will undoubtedly be a daunting challenge for us.”

He also cited “an insufficient testing and contact-tracing infrastructure” as reasons for the “regrettable but necessary decision” to continue the next term virtually.

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The move comes after several CSU campuses, including San Diego State and CSU Chico, recently halted in-person classes following on-campus outbreaks just days after the start of the fall semester.

For students, especially those in San Francisco, the decision to continue classes remotely through the spring comes with significant pros and cons. “On one hand, I am extremely grateful — it’s very apparent as we have seen across the country, college-aged people cannot be trusted to make informed health decisions,” said Siobhán Eagen, a senior at San Francisco State University, majoring in journalism.

SF State student, Siobhán Eagen sheltered in place at her campus apartment from March to May. (Courtesy of Siobhán Eagen)

Eagen said she is grateful to be part of the CSU system, but she is also heartbroken. “The place I loved myself the most is in an educational setting. I loved being in school,” she said. Her education has been important, especially as someone who faced homelessness and didn’t receive much family support.

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But she's also been able to save money, she said, and recently moved to San Diego. Eagen said her roommate is also saving money this year — and won't have to take out loans to pay for housing in San Francisco. “It feels almost sick to look at the bright side,” she said.

CSU spokesperson Mike Uhlenkamp told KQED that “health and safety is the first priority.”

He said tuition will remain the same, though there are variations at each campus in regards to fees for housing and parking — which students will not need to pay, unless they are among the small percentage living on campus.

Uhlenkamp said that while enrollment at SFSU has “dipped a little bit,” overall enrollment is expected to remain roughly the same across the 23-campus system, where some students are still living on campus in single rooms, and about 7% of coursework is being conducted in person.

He also noted that campuses remain open and many are investing in additional software and hardware to loan out to students, including iPads, Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots. Some campuses are also securing parking lots for students to access Wi-Fi in their cars.

KQED's Julie Chang contributed to this report.