The Community College of Philadelphia became the first college in the region to announce it would start the fall semester with online classes.
Some face-to-face courses, particularly labs or those that require hands-on instruction, may be allowed later in the fall if the circumstances surrounding the virus change, the school said.
College president Donald Generals made the announcement to faculty and staff during a virtual town hall on Tuesday. The college, which enrolls about 25,000 full-time and part-time students annually, is largely a commuter campus.
Generals called online classes the “safest and best educational option for the fall semester."
“We are making this decision now to allow faculty adequate time to develop the best remote-learning strategies and to allow students to begin making plans for the fall semester,” he said.
The announcement comes as colleges around the country are discussing how to handle the fall. The University of Notre Dame last week said it would start fall classes early, on Aug. 10, and complete the semester by Thanksgiving so students wouldn’t have to return, reducing the possibility of spreading the virus. Meanwhile, the California State University system, with 500,000 students, the largest in the country, has said it will hold most classes online in the fall and not reopen its campuses.
Locally, Thomas Jefferson University last month said it would allow on-campus living and in-person classes in the fall, but also give students the choice of taking classes remotely.
Other schools said they plan to make their announcements in the coming weeks. Pennsylvania State University said it will notify the campus by June 15.
Generals said even if the city were to get the state’s “green” designation, which would allow restaurants, gyms, and other major venues to reopen at less capacity, the college will stay with online classes at the semester’s start. College committees, he said, looked at a number of options and couldn’t figure out a way to safely provide social distancing and other safeguards, such as testing, needed for an in-person start, given all the uncertainty, he said.
But the school plans to eventually open up some services, such as financial aid, counseling, and the library, for on-campus visits, he said.
Generals said he’s optimistic students will enroll for the online courses, given the experience with summer courses so far. Enrollment for the first summer session is down only about 1% and appears to be strong for the second session, too, he said.
“It defies what was common knowledge at the beginning of this, that students were just going to run,” he said. “But that hasn’t been the case.”
CCP, Generals said, will offer students online meetings for clubs and organizations, guest speakers, and special events. The college also is lending laptops to students who need them for coursework and expanding its online initiative that connects students to personal resources they need to stay in school, he said.