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USC reverses robust fall reopening plans, asks students to stay home for online classes

Visitors gather around the Tommy Trojan statue at USC.
USC students are being asked to stay home and continue their education online in the fall amid the coronavirus crisis.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Amid the alarming surge in coronavirus spread, USC announced it will no longer bring all undergraduates back to campus for the fall semester and will move to mainly online classes, reversing an earlier decision to welcome students back for a hybrid model.

The decision, announced by Provost Charles Zukoski late Wednesday, came the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom announced tougher restrictions on indoor activities. Zukoski recommended that students not return to campus for the semester and instead continue their education online.

“The once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic has altered every aspect of our lives — the way we interact, work, and socialize — and with each new permutation of the pandemic, we must find ways to thrive,” Zukoski wrote in a letter to students.

“Given the continuing safety restrictions and limited densities permissible on campus, our undergraduate students primarily or exclusively will be taking their courses online in the fall term,” he said. “On-campus housing and activities will be limited.”

Only 10% to 20% of courses during the fall semester will be conducted in person and on campus. These courses include certain labs, studios and performance classes, and research studies that require hands-on work.

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Junior Jaya Hinton, co-director of USC’s Black Student Assembly, said the change to online classes is the safest move. But she worries how low-income students and those who are the first in their family to attend college may struggle given next year’s 3.5% tuition hike and that internet access for some may be limited at home.

“Charging full tuition seems ridiculous,” she said. “This just puts our most vulnerable populations in a tough spot.”

For Hinton, whose parents are working from home and two siblings, 10 and 17, are also in school, shifting to online classes in March proved to be a challenge — especially in a household with seven people.

“Our internet just couldn’t sustain everyone that had to be online at the same time,” she said. “It was just a difficult experience for all of us.”

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The new USC decision echoes UCLA’s plan for the fall to offer only 15% to 20% of courses on campus, and it reflects how colleges throughout the state and nation are moving to severely limit in-person courses, continue with online learning and dramatically alter student life during the pandemic.

Both the California State University — the largest four-year university system in the nation — and the Los Angeles Community College District have also moved the vast majority of their classes online in the fall.

Students who struggle to connect off campus will be able to apply for a one-time scholarship providing up to two free classes for the 2021 summer session “to help ensure academic progress,” USC said, and the university will also expand its financial and technical support for students with connectivity issues.

Students with on-campus housing contracts will be allowed to cancel them through July 15. For students who need to live on campus, only one student will be permitted per bedroom. Those living near campus will be required to make an appointment to use library spaces or dining facilities.

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“Whether students are here on campus or pursuing their studies and activities online, we want everyone to feel safe and supported,” Zukoski wrote in the letter. “We are in this together and together we will make this fall a rich and rewarding experience.”

The new decision comes just a month after President Carol Folt said students would be able to return to campus for the semester, and three days after USC’s chief health officer revealed a plan to reduce the number of students in campus housing and check for symptoms on a daily basis, according to the Daily Trojan.


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