Quick Guide: California colleges and universities respond to the coronavirus

February 25, 2021

Cal State University Fullerton student Linh Trinh, 21, right, and her boyfriend Tan Nguyen, 21, walk around a deserted CSUF campus on Tuesday, April 21.

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Q: When will colleges reopen for in-person instruction? 

A: Nearly all of the state’s public colleges and universities plan to significantly increase the number of in-person classes for the Fall 2021 academic term.

The California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said the 23-campus system remains committed to returning to in-person instruction by the fall, but repopulating the campuses will depend on the availability of coronavirus vaccine and the advice of medical and public health experts.

The University of California system also is planning for a return to primarily in-person instruction across its 10 campuses this fall. However, specific plans will be announced by individual UC campuses once they coordinate with public health agencies.

The 115 California Community Colleges that offer in-person instruction will continue offering online education and some in-person classes through the spring semester.

Q: Are students living on campus?

Since the onset of the pandemic, most universities across California have limited housing in on-campus dorms to students with special circumstances, such as former foster youth and students who don’t have access to housing away from their universities.

There are some exceptions, however. While not at full capacity, UC San Diego has guaranteed housing this academic year to freshmen, sophomores and transfer students. About 10,000 students are living on that campus, which is more than the number of students living on any other UC or CSU campus.

At Stanford University, campus leaders have invited all juniors and seniors to live on campus during the spring quarter, which begins March 29.

Q: How can students access emergency financial aid Congress approved in the coronavirus relief funding to colleges?

A: Students should contact their campus financial aid office for more details about qualifying or applying for emergency relief.

In December, Congress approved a new round of Covid-19 funds. Of that amount, more than $2.83 billion will go to California’s public and private colleges. Search the EdSource database to learn how much each college or university in California and nationwide received.

Q: What financial aid is available to students?

A: Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, or California Dream Act application to apply for state and federal financial aid. The Dream Act application is typically for undocumented students, so they can receive state aid. The statewide deadline for applying for aid is March 2.

Cal Grants are state financial aid awards that don’t need to be paid back and are awarded each year to hundreds of thousands of students at community colleges, as well as CSU, UC and private campuses. 

Q: What if I don’t have internet access, or not reliable access, at my home? 

A: Community college students who don’t have a computer or other device to take classes online should check with their local college for possible laptop loan programs, according to the guidance.

Students who attend a four-year university and don’t have internet at home should check in with officials at their universities.

Q: Has any admissions criteria changed for incoming students?

A: The University of California and California State University systems have relaxed some of their admissions criteria for incoming freshmen and transfer students.

UC and CSU suspended the SAT and ACT requirement for current high school seniors applying for fall 2021 freshman admission. UC then went a step further and abandoned the SAT and ACT exams as a freshman admission requirement in May and may implement a new test requirement by 2025.

Last year, high school seniors were allowed to submit pass/no pass grades in place of traditional letter grades for A-G courses completed in winter, spring or summer 2020. A-G courses are the set of high school classes students must take to be eligible to attend one of the nine UC undergraduate campuses or one of the 23 CSU campuses.

Legislation has also been introduced in the state Assembly that would require CSU to accept pass/no pass grades earned during the 2020-21 academic year for admissions purposes. The bill would encourage UC and private institutions to also accept those grades.

EdSource higher education reporters Ashley A. Smith and Michael Burke contributed to this report. 

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