Occidental College announces online instruction for Fall 2020

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Thorne Hall at Occidental College. Matthew Reagan/The Occidental

In a campus-wide email, President Harry J. Elam Jr. announced Occidental will abandon its plans for any in-person classes in the fall, opting instead for exclusively remote instruction. 

Occidental is the latest college to pivot from a hybrid model of instruction that would include both an in-person and online course load. Since July 1, USC, Pomona College, Scripps College and Pitzer College have announced plans for an online fall semester. 

“This decision to go remote is one we hoped we would not have to make, and we take little solace in the fact that we are among a growing number of colleges to reach the same conclusion,” Elam said via email. “Still, we are confident that this approach appropriately balances the need to safeguard the collective health and safety of the Occidental community, while enabling our students to continue their education.” 

Today’s announcement comes as confirmed cases of COVID-19 have surged locally and statewide. As of July 15, LA County has 140,576 confirmed cases of COVID-19, averaging 2,474 new cases per day over the past week. Surges in LA County and elsewhere in the state pushed California Gov. Gavin Newsom July 13 to roll back reopen measures statewide.

According to today’s update, the college will welcome back around 200 students, prioritizing international students and those with significant housing hardships. Students have until July 19 to submit a petition for housing consideration and will receive a decision July 24. All prior housing assignments promised by the college — including disability accommodations and first-year housing — are no longer possible, according to the update. 

The college’s prioritization of housing international students follows the decision by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to rescind new rules for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) that would have barred international students from staying in the U.S. if their schools went fully online.

Given that most students will not be able to return to campus, Elam also announced Occidental is cancelling its participation in intercollegiate athletics in the fall. 

Those who will remain on campus will be regularly tested for the coronavirus, and the college announced that it is partnering with a private lab to ensure timely test results. Staff, faculty and students will also use a college-sponsored monitoring app to track daily temperature and symptom checks.

In a typical year, the revenue earned by tuition, room and board provides two-thirds of the college’s operating budget, according to a June 29 financial update by former President Jonathan Veitch and Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Amos Himmelstein.

Tuition will neither decrease nor increase for the 2020–2021 academic year, remaining at $55,980 and at an overall cost, with room and board, of $73,276. Elam reiterated the college’s commitment to meeting the full demonstrated financial needs of its students in the coming semester, stating that the students will receive revised financial aid packages by July 29. 

Veitch announced the college’s original plan for the fall June 15, stating the college would welcome back students and work to provide a hybrid model of both in-person and online instruction. On just his second day as college president, Elam sent a message July 2 to the campus community acknowledging the worsening crisis and promising the comprehensive update he delivered today.

Last spring, Veitch announced that the semester would continue remotely March 12 due to the threat to health and safety posed by the coronavirus. On the date of that announcement, LA County had 32 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The Fall 2020 semester will run from Monday, Aug. 24 to Monday, Dec. 7. According to today’s announcement, the college has not yet reached any decision regarding the Spring 2021 semester but intends for in-person instruction with students returning to campus.

Jackie Dall contributed to the reporting of this article.