Photo: California State University
CSU chancellor Timothy White

Nearly all of California State University’s classes may remain virtual, not only this fall but for the rest of the upcoming academic year.

CSU Chancellor Tim White, during a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on the pandemic and the future of higher education, said the decision in May to primarily move to a virtual setting for the fall term and “quite frankly the academic year was driven by health and safety issues and student progress.”

“A lot of people are using the past tense, ‘How did you manage the pandemic?’” he said, during his testimony. “This is not a two-month problem or a six-month problem. This is a 12-, 18-, 24-month, at a minimum problem.”

White, who has announced plans to leave his post by December, did not specify how the pandemic may affect colleges in the long-term. However, he said health officials are projecting a bump in infections this summer and later this year.

“We imagine another bump this summer. We have a very strong forecast of a greater wave of this disease coupled with influenza come October/November and another wave coming in March/April,” he said. “So our planning has been for the longer-term rather than trying to figure out how we get to the next two weeks or two months.”

White, along with Minneapolis College President Sharon Pierce, Western Governors University President Scott Pulsipher and American Educational Research Association President Shaun Harper, explained during the hearing how campuses, students and faculty have coped under the pandemic and what more investment Congress could give to colleges as they consider re-opening in-person or virtually this fall.

The hearing comes as other universities like Harvard and Stanford announce that only a percentage of their courses will be online, and some groups of students, such as freshmen, will be allowed on campus in-person this fall. At Stanford, freshmen and sophomores would attend in the fall and summer quarters and juniors and seniors would attend for the winter and spring quarters.

White first announced in May that CSU’s 23 campuses would go largely virtual for the fall making the system the first in nation to go virtual because of the coronavirus’s spread.

On May 13, during an interview with EdSource he hinted that CSU may have to plan for longer periods of virtual learning.

“As someone who is a life scientist but not an epidemiologist. I’m of the opinion that it won’t be ready for 12 to 24 months. So with those realities out there, it seems reckless not to be planning to be able to continue the enterprise and students progress to degree through the virtual approaches in every way, shape and form that we can.”

White Tuesday told lawmakers that the system’s leaders considered the effects of opening classes in-person not only on students and faculty but the broader community. He referenced a recent outbreak in East Lansing, Michigan, where more than 150 people were infected with the coronavirus after a group of Michigan State University students hung out at a bar near the campus in June.

“We’re responsible for well over 530,000 people with our employees and with our students … and the communities where we’re embedded,” White said. “We came up with $50 million a month to do testing on a routine basis which is just not in the cards. Quite frankly, if you test today and you’re negative, and it’s an accurate test, that doesn’t mean you don’t pick it up tomorrow.”

Anywhere from 3% to 10% of CSU’s courses — those that require laboratories or health care training, for example — will be in-person, but “everything else will be done in a virtual space,” he said.

White also encouraged Congress to pass the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES, Act, which would mitigate the effects of state budget cuts on both the CSU and the nine-campus University of California systems. CSU will lose $299 million in state funding unless California receives additional federal relief funding by Oct. 15.

Because of the pandemic, CSU campuses estimate they’ve had $337 million of unanticipated new costs and revenue losses for the spring 2020 term, he said.

“Given the state of the economy, we anticipate increased needs for our students and that the demand for student support services will remain high,” he said. “New investments in technology to support a more robust range of tutoring, counseling and telehealth services will be needed. Additional federal action will be necessary to allow us to continue our critical work in support of our state’s and nation’s future.”

The HEROES Act passed the Democratic-led House in May, but has been ignored by the Republican-led Senate. It’s clear that the pandemic has impacted each school’s ability to deliver education, said California Rep. Susan Davis, a Democrat and chair of the House’s Higher Education and Workforce Investment Committee.

“Congress still has much work to do to pass the HEROES Act,” she said. “From providing institutions with additional relief, to protecting vulnerable students from fraud and ensuring all students can access and complete a college degree.”

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  1. Karen 3 months ago3 months ago

    I work at a CSU and strongly support staying virtual for the whole academic year! We need to protect vulnerable populations. One year of virtual education to save lives across communities is the right thing to do!

  2. JB 4 months ago4 months ago

    After listening to Dr. Fauci, there is no guarantee that a vaccine will produce herd immunity. When, and if, a vaccine is developed, many will chose not to get vaccinated. The universities need to communicate their long-term plan to address this reality instead of leaving students, teachers, and families in limbo. Risk is inherent in every decision, and no virus can be completely eliminated.

  3. Johnny 4 months ago4 months ago

    I agree with protecting the most vulnerable. Students are not in that category. 65 and older are. I just question what's going to happen when the flu does hit. Do we close down schools indefinitely? Colleges cannot stay closed forever because students will not pay for it. Colleges will go bankrupt, and professors will lose jobs as well as other employees. I'm sure the administrators are waiting for a vaccine so … Read More

    I agree with protecting the most vulnerable. Students are not in that category. 65 and older are. I just question what’s going to happen when the flu does hit. Do we close down schools indefinitely? Colleges cannot stay closed forever because students will not pay for it. Colleges will go bankrupt, and professors will lose jobs as well as other employees. I’m sure the administrators are waiting for a vaccine so it will protect them legally.

    Replies

    • Zoe 3 months ago3 months ago

      The problem you are not considering is that many students actually are in fact vulnerable due to many issues and possible illnesses that make them immunocompromised or immunosuppressed. In addition, many professors and staff are in fact older and may also have the same issues in terms of health issues. This is not even considering the wider-breadth of potentials for people in their families and at home. Many students still live with their families and … Read More

      The problem you are not considering is that many students actually are in fact vulnerable due to many issues and possible illnesses that make them immunocompromised or immunosuppressed. In addition, many professors and staff are in fact older and may also have the same issues in terms of health issues.

      This is not even considering the wider-breadth of potentials for people in their families and at home. Many students still live with their families and could have vulnerable populations in the immediate house-hold and students having to go back to school could have devastating impacts on people and their families.

  4. Bruce Heiman 4 months ago4 months ago

    As a Prof. at SFSU, I strongly support staying virtual for the whole academic year. We need to protect those who belong to vulnerable populations at the student, faculty, and staff levels.

  5. Norma 4 months ago4 months ago

    My son got accepted to CSULB but we are exploring other options. I’m not paying for online college.

  6. Katherine 4 months ago4 months ago

    Absolutely heartbreaking. The rising freshmen have lost so much because of COVID-19 already. After working so hard in HS to get into college ... only to find out they wont be able to go away? The excitement of getting accepted and looking forward to beginning the next chapter of their lives is palatable. As mentioned by someone else, K-12 is getting some sort of hybrid learning, depending on their state and district. They need peer … Read More

    Absolutely heartbreaking. The rising freshmen have lost so much because of COVID-19 already. After working so hard in HS to get into college … only to find out they wont be able to go away? The excitement of getting accepted and looking forward to beginning the next chapter of their lives is palatable.

    As mentioned by someone else, K-12 is getting some sort of hybrid learning, depending on their state and district. They need peer interaction along with in-person instruction, just like college students do. Just this week there was an article about the sharp rise in anxiety among students, which can lead to depression. There are many studies about this same subject from vetted sources, but that’s not my focus.

    We’ve seen what has happened recently when people have chosen not to wear masks and have gone out en masse and raised the COVID levels in various states and their different counties.
    As long as our daughter keeps up her online grades in the fall, we’re going to allow her to go off and live with different relatives and family friends while going to school so at least she still gets to “go away.” We’ve come up with family and friends all over the country who are willing to take her in. She’ll have to send her grades to us every few weeks so we know she’s engaged and continuing to do well, otherwise she’ll have to come home.

    Learning that it might become 12-24 months is daunting. How many of their students do they think they’re going to be able to keep?

    Connections. Human connections. I think students who are paying for their education will be on the more mindful side as far as being able to stay as long as they follow the mandated guidelines in order to “keep the curve flat.” If they cant follow mandates (masks for starters), they’d have to go. They shouldn’t be there in the first place.

    Graduate and doctorate students need to be able to start their lives. International students? Most will have to leave without all of their previous support.

    This can be done – 1 semester maybe? But, 1-2 years?? Some of these kids are already struggling. This could really leave them with little to no hope. These students need support from their universities along from their families. Otherwise, they may give up on going, and may give up on themselves. Some completely.

  7. Russell Shubert 4 months ago4 months ago

    Outrageous decision, totally against this action and I hope the public start raising the alarm at this extreme overreaction.

  8. lrarmstrong 4 months ago4 months ago

    If the CSU can do it as the largest system then any college or university can.

  9. Nick 4 months ago4 months ago

    The CDC and pediatricians all recommend that all kids start school in person in August. Schools should be following CDC guidance and not making up their own rules. Pediatricians’ recommendation is because they are seeing children fall behind and the alarming increase in suicides and an overall decline in young people’s mental health. It is so disheartening that none of this is taken into consideration and all the students who attend a CSUs are being hurt.

    Replies

    • Bo Loney 4 months ago4 months ago

      Except, University students are adults and the Professors tend to be older and in the at risk group.

  10. Syl 4 months ago4 months ago

    No. Utterly ridiculous and to the extreme!

    Replies

    • Marty 4 months ago4 months ago

      I think we need to let the experts speak for all of us – and they are giving us their scientific, realistic expert advice, not based on emotions but in real numbers and analytical facts. I think nobody wants to see schools closing but if, in their well-informed judgment, the alternative is graver – then what are we to do …