Pitzer becomes third 5C to go online only amid growing public health crisis

A pool is surrounded by furniture and buildings, with mountains in the background.
Pitzer College announced it will be online-only for the fall semester, according to an email today from Pitzer president Melvin Oliver. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

Pitzer College classes will be online only and campus will be closed for the fall semester, Pitzer President Melvin Oliver announced in an email to students today.

“Despite our best efforts, the current public health conditions are such that the Pitzer Board of Trustees and I have determined that the responsible decision is to not bring students back to campus for the fall semester,” Oliver said in the email.

In an FAQ page on Pitzer’s website, the college cited the recent rise in coronavirus cases throughout Southern California as a threat to the wellbeing of individuals in the Pitzer community. The college is continuing to plan for an in-person spring 2021 semester.

Pitzer is third 5C to commit to online semester

Pitzer’s announcement comes after Pomona College and Scripps College announced last week that they will also be online only in the fall, with campus closed to students. 

These three colleges stand in contrast to the remaining 5Cs, who have unveiled potential plans for hybrid learning. Pending approval from Los Angeles County and California, Harvey Mudd College will be providing students with the options of returning to campus or continuing coursework online. 

Claremont McKenna College has developed a plan for hybrid learning that would allow students to return to campus, but has not yet made a final decision about the fall semester. The college is planning to announce its decision by July 24.

Pitzer will begin classes with the rest of the 5Cs a week earlier than normal on Aug. 24, with final exams finishing by Dec. 4. For returning students, the course add-drop period closed on July 8 as faculty work to adapt schedules for the fall; a second round of registration will occur during the week of Aug. 3.

Incoming students will register for classes between Aug. 10 and 13, and 5C students will be allowed to cross-register and take Pitzer classes online. Pitzer students will not be allowed to take in-person classes if they are offered at Claremont McKenna College, the update said. Likewise, Pitzer students will only be allowed to take Keck Science department classes online. 

Tuition, financial aid and leave of absence policies

The Pitzer Board of Trustees will not increase tuition for the 2020-2021 academic year, Oliver said. There will also be no student activity fee or room and board charges for the fall semester. 

While no clear information on financial aid was provided, Oliver said Pitzer staff are meeting daily to figure out how best to package financial aid and will “address the needs of low-income students to the best of our ability by providing the appropriate technology and access to other resources as needed.”

Pitzer did not indicate whether financial aid would be available for students who need to live away from home. Scripps and Pomona have offered students funding for off-campus housing in the fall. 

“The Office of Financial Aid is working closely with Student Affairs and Residence Life to address the needs of students who are unable to live at home with family,” the FAQ said.

The FAQ page stated that the college does not “anticipate any changes” that would reduce students’ ability to take a one-semester or two-semester leave of absence, and maintains that financial aid will not be impacted by a student taking a leave. However, the college will not guarantee housing in the spring for students who take a leave in the fall. 

While first-years and current students can take a year or semester off, New Resources and transfer students can only defer for one semester. New students must make a deferral decision by July 20, the FAQ said. The last day for current students to withdraw and receive a tuition refund is Sept. 4.

Oliver noted that as a tuition-dependent college — nearly 90 percent of Pitzer’s operating cost is covered by tuition, he said — Pitzer may face financial hardship in the fall if there is a reduction in enrollment. 

Every student who remains enrolled with us online will have a direct impact on the cost reductions we need to make, our ability to provide financial support to students in need, and our ability to retain our employees,” he said in the email. 

Pitzer did not commit to not furloughing any employees but said “we will make every effort to avoid furloughing or laying off anyone as we address the significant financial challenges we face.” Seventy percent of the college’s tuition revenue goes towards salaries according to the email.


Pitzer’s grading policy for fall 2020 will return to normal, the FAQ said.

The FAQ also indicated that the transfer credit policy may change for the fall semester. Incoming first-years will not be allowed to take courses at other institutions or they will need to reapply as transfer students. 

Inside-Out courses will still be offered in the fall, via Zoom, “a first for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,” according to the FAQ. 

Study abroad has been suspended for the fall and the college has not made a decision about spring study abroad. Additionally, there will be no visiting international exchange students at Pitzer in the fall, according to the FAQ. 

“The College continues to monitor the situation worldwide and will evaluate the viability of spring (and winter) study abroad programs,” the FAQ said. “The College will make its own policy determination for ALL study abroad programs irrespective of individual providers’ policies.”

Student life

The college is planning virtual co-curricular activities to help foster a sense of community while students are off campus.

Becca Zimmerman PZ ’21, Pitzer Student Senate president and a member of the COVID-19 Task Force, said that the school had to make a tough choice, but that ultimately, it was the right decision.

“President Oliver, with the full support of the Trustees, Task Force and other administrators, made a clear decision to prioritize the health and safety of the entire Pitzer community. I am confident that this decision is the right call,” Zimmerman told TSL via message. 

Medical services through the Student Health Services will be available for students residing in Claremont, by appointment only. Monsour can only offer telehealth appointments to students residing in California. Other mental and physical health resources will be available to students.

Furthermore, Pomona-Pitzer recently made the joint decision to cancel fall athletics. Pitzer student-athletes who do not compete in the fall will keep a year of eligibility, according to the FAQ.

Pitzer will continue to store student items left at the college in March, but students can also pick up their items in Claremont.

Information regarding new student orientation will be released on July 16. 

Decision comes as cases rise in California 

Pitzer’s decision follows California Governor Gavin Newsom’s decision to shut down indoor dining, bars and movie theaters across the state due to a surge in COVID-19.

Los Angeles County is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, breaking its single day record of new cases with over 4,000 reported Tuesday. With the rise in cases, officials fear that hospitals will be overwhelmed. Gov. Newsom announced Monday that gyms, churches, salons, malls and nonessential offices in the county would be reclosed due to the surge. 

The two largest California school districts, serving a combined 720,000 students — L.A. Unified School District and San Diego Unified School District — announced on Monday that they would be online only in the fall.

This news also comes on the heels of Immigration and Customs Enforcement reversing its decision to bar international students from remaining in the U.S. if their college is online only in the fall. 

This is a developing story and will be updated as information is released.

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