Quick Guide: California colleges and universities respond to the coronavirus

Credit: Christina House/Los Angeles Times/PolarisCal State University Fullerton student Linh Trinh, 21, right, and her boyfriend Tan Nguyen, 21, walk around a deserted CSUF campus on Tuesday, April 21. The school is planning to begin Fall semester with online classes, one of the first universities in the nation to make that move as campuses throughout the country grapple with how long to stay closed to most students amid the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Christina House/Los Angeles Times/PolarisCal State University Fullerton student Linh Trinh, 21, right, and her boyfriend Tan Nguyen, 21, walk around a deserted CSUF campus on Tuesday, April 21. The school is planning to begin Fall semester with online classes, one of the first universities in the nation to make that move as campuses throughout the country grapple with how long to stay closed to most students amid the coronavirus pandemic. This report will be updated to include the latest developments. It was last updated on July 28, 7:23 p.m.Q: Are California’s colleges and universities closed for instruction? 
A: In general, all of California’s colleges and universities closed for in-person instruction in March and are continuing to offer classes online through the summer.
Q: When will colleges reopen for in-person instruction? 
A: Most classes across the California State University system will continue to be held online through the fall because of the spread of the coronavirus, Chancellor Tim White said in May. Keeping classes online is necessary because of “evolving data surrounding the progression” of the virus, White said during a CSU trustee meeting, alluding to public health experts forecasting further waves of the virus later this year. He left the door open, however, to resuming some in-person classes “as circumstances might allow.”
The nine University of California campuses with undergraduate classes will also offer most classes online, but like the Cal State campuses, each UC campus is planning to offer a limited number of courses in person. However, even those plans are subject to change and the campuses may not be able to offer any face to face instruction at the beginning of the academic year.
Meanwhile, most of the state’s 115 community colleges across California will not be able to offer in-person classes this fall, the community college system’s chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said at a July meeting of the system’s Board of Governors. Oakley said that while colleges in some counties may be able to offer in-person courses, it is “highly unlikely” that the majority of colleges across the state will be able to do so. (The system’s 116th college, Calbright is online only.)
Q: What about tuition and fees? 
A: Spokesperson for both UC and California State University insist that online classes are worth the value of full tuition and that the universities will not reduce or refund a portion of students’ tuition costs.
Lawyers representing students from the CSU and UC systems filed a federal lawsuit in April demanding refunds for fees paid for the Spring 2020 academic term. The fees typically cover campus gyms, health facilities, student center and activities. UC officials declined to comment on the lawsuit. A CSU spokesman said campuses have been open and offering services to students even though courses were moved online and that they would “vigorously defend the lawsuit.” Both suits remain open.
Q: What resources are available to professors and instructors who are unfamiliar with teaching online? 
A: A vast amount of material and tools are available for online instruction, which most colleges have offered in some form already. Some colleges are more prepared than others for this transition. Some colleges and universities are providing their own webinars and training sessions to help their instructors make the transition to online instruction. The challenge will be greatest for faculty with little or no experience with distance learning.
Many digital learning experts are offering advice and tools online. Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education has a collection of resources and tips for educators and families, including college instructors transitioning from the classroom to at-home learning.
Educause, an education technology association, offers some advice for professors transitioning quickly from face-to-face instruction online. And two Facebook groups have emerged to help teachers and professors share ideas and strategies for transitioning their classrooms from in-person to online: Teaching in the Time of Corona: Resources and Pandemic Pedagogy.
Q: How can students access emergency financial aid Congress approved in the coronavirus stimulus funding to colleges?
A: The state’s colleges and universities received more than $1.7 billion to help fight the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Each college was required to use at least half of the amount they received to provide emergency grants and financial aid to students to help them with expenses because of the coronavirus. Those expenses can include a wide range of issues such as health care, child care, food, living expenses or computers.
Each campus determined who can access the funding and some are developing applications so students can apply for the aid. However, some students, who do not typically qualify for federal financial aid, will not be able to receive these emergency grants, such as undocumented students or those who primarily enrolled in online courses prior to the pandemic.  The California Community Colleges won a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education over eligibility requirements the agency placed on coronavirus emergency student aid.
Search the EdSource database to learn how much each college or university in California and nationwide received.
Q: What about students who were planning on spending some or all of next year at an international program? Are those programs still planning on being open? 
A: This is an evolving situation and you should consult the website of the programs you hope to participate in.  All University of California study abroad programs have been suspended for the fall and the year. The CSU Chancellor’s Office International Program has been canceled for Fall 2020. And they won’t make a determination about spring 2021 until later in the fall.
Q: Is there any assistance available for repaying federal student loans?
A: For non-students who are paying back federal loans, or if you have chosen to pay off your loans while you are in college, you can suspend your payments for six months, or until Sept 30, as part of the $2 trillion economic stimulus package signed by President Trump.
Because of the impact of the coronavirus, interest rates on some federally held student loans were automatically set at zero percent for 6 months, as well. Borrowers won’t have to worry about accruing interest if they choose to suspend their payments.
Borrowers also can continue making payments. The full payment would go toward the principal balance of the loan. However, the new stimulus law doesn’t apply to every type of federal loan. It excludes loans that are guaranteed by the government, but not held by it, for example, Federal Family Education Loans don’t qualify.
Q: What financial aid is available to students?
A: The same amount of financial aid will be available this year to students at California’s public colleges and universities. Despite budget cuts across higher education, the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom did not make any major reductions to the Cal Grant program. 
Cal Grants are 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. The 2020-21 budget maintains the number of grants available to students as well as the amount of aid that students can receive.
Q: Will faculty still be expected to work? 
A: Yes. Most classes are being converted to online instruction, so faculty will still teach their courses via Zoom, Canvas and other remote methods.
Q: What if I don’t have internet access, or not reliable access, at my home? 
A: For students who are enrolled at a community college but don’t have internet access at home, the system’s guidance to students notes that several internet providers are offering free or reduced-cost internet access. Go here for more information on those services.
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: What am I expected to do if I am unable to live with my family during this period?  Will on-campus housing be offered to students in the fall? 
Most universities are planning to open campus housing but only to a limited number of students. Across the University of California, for example, all campuses except UC San Diego are not guaranteeing housing to as many students as they typically do. Campuses are also limiting housing to single and double occupancy rooms.
Some campuses have said they will give priority to students who are housing insecure and to low-income students. It is best to check with your campus. And as with in-person classes, plans to offer even a limited amount of on-campus housing are subject to change depending on the threat of the coronavirus.
Many campuses are also continuing to provide housing and dining services through the summer for students who have a need, such as former foster youth or students who face homelessness. The availability and type of campus housing continues to vary by campus.
The types of meal service available for students who remain on campus is specific to the particular campus, said Toni Molle, a CSU system spokeswoman. Some campuses have set up “grab and go” take-out style or boxed meals, she said.
Q: Will mental health and other support services normally offered by my college be available during this transitional period?
A: Some on-campus counseling and mental health offices have closed, but are offering video and phone visits. Counseling and psychological services at CSU Long Beach, for example, remain available by phone. Some services like UC San Diego Health remain open for students who need urgent care. In general, students should check with the counseling and student support service offices on their campuses, and take advantage of whatever options are offered during this difficult time.
Campus health centers, mental health counseling and other student services such as academic advising will continue to operate via tele-health or online through the summer sessions at CSU campuses, according to a spokesperson for the system.
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.
High school seniors can submit credit/no credit 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.
Community college students planning to transfer to a CSU or UC campus can also submit credit/no credit grades for prerequisite classes completed during the same time frame.
UC and CSU suspended the SAT and ACT requirement for current high school juniors for this upcoming year because of widespread testing cancellations. UC went a step further and abandoned the SAT and ACT exams as a freshman admission requirement in May and decided to develop its own substitute standardized test by 2025.
EdSource higher education reporters Ashley A. Smith, Larry Gordon and Michael Burke contributed to this report. 
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