Mapping College Plans for Fall 2020

How does UC Berkeley compare to its peers?


Updated JULY 31, 2020

UC Berkeley will start its fall semester online. SAMUEL ALBILLO | SENIOR STAFF

On July 21, UC Berkeley updated its reopening plans for the fall semester. According to the most recent announcement from the Division of Student Affairs, the campus will “begin the fall semester with fully remote instruction,” but hopes to switch to a hybrid model depending on public health conditions. Originally, UC Berkeley planned on starting the semester hybrid and shifting to a fully online model after Thanksgiving. To gain a better understanding of UC Berkeley’s reopening strategy, The Daily Californian compared UC Berkeley to other similar colleges and universities.

To meet the virtual needs of students, instructors are improving remote learning techniques to simulate the interactive aspects of regular instruction. Beyond the classroom, UC Berkeley is striving to provide a more holistic college environment for new and returning students.

“While we are pivoting to serve students who will be with us … remotely, we're keenly aware of how the entire student experience creates a Berkeley education,” said Stephen Sutton, vice chancellor for student affairs, in an email.

As a large public campus, UC Berkeley faces challenges that smaller schools may not have to address. Campus administrators must implement strategies for managing tens of thousands of students who come from around the world and interact frequently in enclosed spaces.

“Several challenges that are specific to the university context, like Berkeley, are ... the close-knit nature of contact, especially among people who live on campus,” said Joseph Lewnard, an assistant professor of epidemiology at UC Berkeley. “Second, the university is a complex environment, where many students live off campus in different communities, where they’ll have different exposures.”

Reopening universities gained new significance in the wake of a July 6 announcement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that international students must leave the United States if all of their classes are online. Though the rule was recently reversed, President Donald Trump’s administration's insistence on reopening schools contrasts the narrative among scientists and public health experts that a hasty reopening risks greater spread of COVID-19.

According to Lewnard, “models that … encourage on-campus, in-person instruction in the way that it occurred before March will necessarily increase risk.”

How does UC Berkeley compare?

First, we examined large public universities.

In the figure below, we have mapped the 60 largest universities in the United States, along with their proposed reopening strategies for the upcoming term. We chose to sort universities by undergraduate enrollment, rather than total enrollment. The majority of these schools are public, with a few private universities such as New York University and Brigham Young University. UC Berkeley falls right around the median for size, with about 30,000 undergraduates. The combined enrollment of these schools is about 2 million college students.

The color represents the reopening strategy. To clarify, “hybrid” means that a school’s instruction is primarily remote, with a few in-person classes. “Online” means instruction is entirely remote, and schools labeled “in-person” will have mostly in-person instruction. The size of the marker is proportional to the school’s undergraduate enrollment.

Reopening Plans for 60 Largest US Colleges

We see first that California’s universities stand out for the high percentage of entirely online classes. After switching its reopening plan to fully remote, UC Berkeley resembles most other public campuses in California. In contrast, several large universities, such as the University of Central Florida and Texas A&M University, remain optimistic that they can offer a significant portion of their classes in person, though a remote option exists for students who wish to stay off campus.

Second, we compared UC Berkeley to other schools within the state. California was held up as an exemplar for dealing with the coronavirus, but has since seen a spike in cases. We included each four-year university in California with an undergraduate population of more than 7,000.

Reopening Plans for Colleges in California

As shown, the vast majority of California’s colleges have announced either a hybrid or online model. Out of the 32 schools on the map, only Chapman University and California Baptist University plan on having in-person classes.

The CSU and UC systems include the largest campuses in the state. So far, the two systems have diverged on their fall plans. The majority of CSU schools have announced entirely remote classes, while several UC schools have hybrid reopening plans.

The map above shows only midsize to large colleges in California. Small schools such as Claremont McKenna College and Harvey Mudd College face their own challenges and differ in their approaches to reopening. Next, we contrasted different reopening plans based on each college’s undergraduate enrollment. Small colleges have less than 6,000 undergraduates, midsize colleges have between 6,000 and 18,000 undergraduates and large colleges have more than 18,000 undergraduates.

Reopening Plans for Colleges in California (By Enrollment)

We notice first that there are no colleges beyond the 12,000 mark that plan on holding in-person classes. Though the number of colleges planning to hold in-person classes is high, the number of students enrolled at these schools is relatively low. Below, you can see the aggregate number of college students enrolled in California and the current plans of their respective universities.

How will California's college students attend school in the fall?

As seen above, private universities make up a fraction of California’s college student population. As of July 12, no public university plans to hold in-person classes. UC Berkeley falls into the minority of public schools that have a hybrid plan, though it is joined by several other public and private schools such as UC Davis and Stanford University.

What's next?

Since early July, UC Berkeley has seen a recent spate in COVID-19 cases, leading Anna Harte, director of University Health Services, to write in an email that “at the rate we are seeing increases in cases, it’s becoming harder to imagine bringing our campus community back in the way we are envisioning.”

After the spike, campus updated its reopening plans to start the semester remotely, rather than committing to the original hybrid plan.

Much remains unknown about the fall semester. UC Berkeley, along with its peers in California and across the nation, will need to think carefully about how to provide an education during a crisis unlike any other.

About this story

Data for re-opening plans for colleges was sourced from the Chronicle of Higher Education. The plans are still in flux, and this article will be updated with new data when available.

Support us

We're a nonprofit, student-run newsroom. Please consider donating to support our coverage.

A previous version of this article may have implied that UC Berkeley planned to have in-person instruction after Thanksgiving break.

On July 31, data for college reopenings was updated. The map may appear significantly different from the previous version.