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California State University Decides To Move Fall Classes Online


What happens when the quad is in your living room? Well, that is something students in the California State University system are going to find out this fall. The nation's largest four-year college system is moving almost entirely online for the semester starting in August. Cal State University Chancellor Timothy White talked to member station KPCC earlier today about how he made the decision.


TIMOTHY WHITE: We're using science and data and the expert advice of epidemiologists and infectious disease practitioners and our public health officials and government leaders.

KELLY: Nina Agrawal with the LA Times is following this story. She joins me now.

Welcome, Nina.

NINA AGRAWAL: Hi. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Do we know why they have made this decision now to cancel in-person classes through the fall? I guess I'm wondering because none of us know what the world may look like over the next six months.

AGRAWAL: Yes. Chancellor White talked about that at the board of trustees meeting yesterday, and he said it was a confluence of factors. Some of it is the uncertainty about the virus, the possibility of future waves of the outbreak combined, possibly, with the flu. He said it would be irresponsible to wait until August when there's more information about the virus. But if at that point they have to decide to be online, that wouldn't be enough time, and they don't want to have to scramble. That being said, if the situation allows, he would love to ease up and allow a little bit more in-person instruction.

KELLY: So what is fall going to look like at Cal State with almost all the classes at all 23 campuses moving online?

AGRAWAL: There will be reduced availability of on-campus housing. There are still students on campus. Athletics won't continue until students and faculty return to campus. So there'll be limited activity for some of the courses that really absolutely have to be done in person or students need that hands-on experience.

KELLY: Classes that involve a lab or something like that.

AGRAWAL: Like a lab or clinical classes for nurses where they're working with mannequins. But those are going to be in place with really strict health and safety protocols. And the vast majority of courses are going to be virtual or online.

KELLY: How are students reacting to this?

AGRAWAL: I did speak to one this morning. And I think that one of the really big concerns that faculty and students alike have is the digital divide and that students who are the first in their families to go to college or come from low-income backgrounds are not affected in the same way that students who come from more well-off backgrounds are. And this student is first in her family to go to college. She lives in East LA, shares a two-bedroom apartment with five siblings and her mom. And the access to technology, the ability to have a quiet space where you can only focus on work, is not something that many of these students have. One other thing that I have heard is concerns about tuition.

KELLY: I was going to ask. Will tuition stay the same?

AGRAWAL: So the board of trustees has not made a final decision about tuition or fees. Several of them did bring this up yesterday, led by Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, who's an ex officio member. She really urged the board not to consider any kind of tuition hike in this environment. She just said, there are going to be a lot of students who are questioning the value of an online education no matter what we say about how we can make it equal or close to equal.

KELLY: The objection that she was foreseeing being that students and their parents would balk at shelling out tens of thousands of dollars in tuition for a bunch of Zoom classes. Is that what it boils down to?

AGRAWAL: Absolutely, yes.

KELLY: I mean, it sounds like with so many hard choices on the line, this is almost secondary. But so much of the university experience is outside the classroom, is something that you're not going to get from a Zoom call. I'm just thinking of the friendships that you form at college and the professors who become mentors and the random encounters in the libraries and the dorms. Has that been part of the conversation? Is there any way to try to recreate that for these students who essentially are going to lose the entire semester, on top of those who are already going through the spring semester off campus?

AGRAWAL: There is talk about how to recreate those experiences and certainly how to continue to offer support services for students, whether that's counseling or tutoring. But I think so much of the value of that education is the in-person connections that you make, and that can't be replicated.

KELLY: Wow. A whole new world unfolding. That was Nina Agrawal. She covers education for the LA Times.

Thank you so much.

AGRAWAL: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.