Claremont Colleges ‘committed’ to students returning in fall but prep for other scenarios

The Claremont Colleges are hoping students will be able to return in the fall. But due to the uncertainty caused of COVID-19, they’re preparing alternative plans. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced students off-campus in March, some of the Claremont Colleges are considering different options for the fall semester, including continuing classes online or delaying its start.

But as a consortium, they currently remain “committed” to a best-case scenario of a fall semester where students return to campus and in-person classes and activities resume, Laura Muna-Landa, a spokesperson for The Claremont Colleges Services, said in an email to TSL.  

The course catalog has been released, and class registration is set to begin April 28. Some colleges have delayed room draw, but they’re still preparing to house students on campus.

The 5Cs — which have said they’ll make a final decision together — are actively working to determine what else needs to happen to bring academic, research and residential programs back to the campuses while keeping the best public health practices and government direction in mind, Muna-Landa said. 

However, Harvey Mudd College has said the “most likely” scenario might include a combination of online and in-person classes. 

“We will be watching how the curve flattens for the spread of the infection, and what the medical capacity in Claremont is for handling severe cases,” a statement on one of the school’s COVID-19 webpages says. “If the capacity in the Los Angeles area can cope with the level of infection that we would expect by having people come back, then we would likely resume in-person classes with some components of social distancing.”

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Students, staff and faculty would likely be required to wear face masks/coverings for several months, according to a different page on HMC’s website.

In that instance, the school would also create an online option available for students who can’t return to campus, according to the first webpage.

“There may be some students who just literally cannot get back in the country because borders may remain closed,” the site says. “In that case, we would try to have enough online course options that they could take remotely.” 

But if students are able to return, the school expects them to do so, according to the webpage.

HMC has also discussed delaying the start of the fall semester by three weeks to further flatten the curve before bringing students back, the webpage says. If that happens, winter break may be shortened. 

“Our very strong preference would be to bring students back to campus if state and local officials determine that we can do so,” a statement on the second webpage says. “We remain optimistic that we will be able to be together in person this fall.”

In an email to students Tuesday, Scripps College President Lara Tiedens said the school must consider scenarios that include delaying or disrupting the fall semester, but didn’t go into detail.

“We remain optimistic that we will be able to be together in person this fall.” — Harvey Mudd College

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Pitzer College told students in an email Wednesday that the situation is fluid, and the school has not yet definitively decided one way or the other.

“Currently, we are assuming that we will return to campus in the fall, although a final decision will be made later this summer,” Pitzer’s Vice President for Academic Affairs Allen Omoto said in the email. “You will be informed of that decision as soon as it is made.”

Claremont McKenna College and Pomona College have not individually released information regarding possibilities for the fall semester. 

The colleges hope to be able to make a decision by July 1, according to HMC’s second COVID-19 webpage. However, if they decide to delay the start of the semester, further decisions may be made as late as August.

The uncertainty of the situation has left some students feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

Elisabeth Lawton SC ’21 was supposed to do summer research for her thesis that she had planned to write in the fall.

“All of those plans are incredibly uncertain, and I don’t have much of a backup because I did not factor in a global pandemic when planning my thesis,” she said via message.

Like the schools, Lawton is also making back-up plans. If the Claremont Colleges decide it’s not safe for students to return next semester and opt to continue with online classes, she said she would take a leave of absence.

“I know I’m not the only person who has this plan,” Lawton said. “I think many students would not commit to an entire semester of online classes at the tuition rates that these colleges demand because it just isn’t worth it.”

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It’s unclear whether the colleges will adjust tuition if classes remain online for the full fall semester.

Will Casciato PZ ’22 is also stressed and said via message that there’s “almost no way” he’d enroll at Pitzer in the fall if classes are online. 

To add to the logistical difficulties, he’s planning to live off-campus with friends in the fall, but has been holding off on renting a house until he knows whether they’ll be returning.

“Not knowing what is going to happen is making me deeply anxious,” Casciato said.

Tarush Sharma HM ’23, an international student from India, is facing a different issue. He said via email that he’ll enroll in HMC in the fall “under any circumstances,” but might not be able to return to the U.S. if the pandemic persists. 

“I understand a college experience is far more than just academics and remote learning. However, being enrolled in college gives me an excuse to talk to my friends for hours every day,” Sharma said. “We collaborate on our homework problem sets and study together for tests. My daily phone calls with my friends are what I look forward to the most these days, and they are the reason I feel emotionally stable.”

But to allow him to stay enrolled at Mudd, he said his family will need to take out loans, as they’re now experiencing financial hardships due to COVID-19. His mom is a designer and hasn’t been able to work for almost a month.

“It’s really unfortunate that we will have to take out loans to pay for my tuition but my parents have always worked extremely hard to make sure me and my sister get everything we need for our education,” Sharma said. “Regardless, it’s still concerning to watch my parents take out loans.”

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