New Jersey Colleges opting for online-only fall semester as Covid cases rise

Aug 6, 2020

By Carly Sitrin

08/05/2020 03:47 PM EDT

More New Jersey colleges are switching their fall reopening plans from hybrid in-person to mostly or

completely online as coronavirus cases tick upward in the state.

This week, Rowan University, The College of New Jersey and Drew University announced changes to their

restart plans, advising students that because the state has not moved into stage three — the final stage — of

its reopening, their campuses cannot begin welcoming people back in person in two weeks, when classes are

set to resume.

The three are the latest colleges to join a national trend of schools shifting away from in-person instruction

as the Covid-19 pandemic surges across the country, spreading rapidly among young adults who have

attended house parties, shore gatherings and sports practices.

“While we had planned for a full return to campus this fall, it is apparent that New Jersey will remain in

Stage 2 of its reopening plan for the foreseeable future, so we will begin the fall semester accordingly.”

Rowan President Ali Houshmand told students in an email on Wednesday.

Houshmand said Rowan plans to “shift immediately to fewer restrictions as the state makes progress,” and

students will be able to live on campus even if all of their classes meet remotely.

According to a letter from TCNJ President Kathryn Foster sent to students on Tuesday, the school will offer

all Fall 2020 courses in remote-only mode, house only a small number of students on campus and further

reduce in-person, on-campus activity.

“I understand that this revision … is a disappointment in a season of them,” Foster said in her letter, adding

that there has been “disquieting and incontrovertible evidence” of community coronavirus spread arising

from group gatherings, including sports practices, parties and congregate living arrangements like dorms.

Drew University President Thomas Schwarz said in his note to the school community that all Fall 2020

semester courses will be offered online only and that most of Drew’s students will study from home.

Rutgers and Princeton universities previously announced plans to go mostly online this semester and more

New Jersey schools are expected to follow in the days to come.

These changes will undoubtedly present a financial challenge for school leaders and students. Professors and

staff will still need to be paid and facilities cleaned and operated but as colleges saw in the spring when they

first pivoted to remote-learning, it’s likely students will demand tuition refunds for classes not taught on


This week, a Yale University student filed suit against the Ivy League school, claiming the “online

experience was inferior,” and a coalition of Rutgers students, staff and community members sent a letter to

the university‘s Board of Governors requesting a 20 percent reduction in tuition and the elimination of

campus fees for all students this semester.

Fearing New Jersey college students may begin demanding refunds en masse, colleges have been lobbying

the state Legislature to move on a bill NJ S2634 (20R) that would grant universities legal immunity from

Covid-19-related lawsuits, and another measure NJ S2706 (20R) that would limit the responsibility colleges

to refund tuition for in-person instruction canceled due to Covid-19.

At the same time, Assemblymember Ron Dancer (R-Monmouth) has introduced his own bill, NJ A4499

— the text of which is not yet available — that would direct the state Secretary of Higher Education to

reduce state aid to public and private universities that provide the majority of its classes online due to Covid-

19 and don’t lower tuition.

“Students take on a lot of debt for the full slate of services and opportunities college provides in addition to

education,” Dancer said in a statement. “If they can’t enjoy those services and opportunities, they shouldn’t

have to pay for them.”

The Secretary of Higher Education’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.