Several university systems, flagship institutions and top-ranked colleges have announced in the last few weeks that they’re planning for mostly in-person instruction next fall.
The decisions come on the heels of news that the Biden administration expects the country will have enough vaccines for all adults by late May, and as colleges begin sending out acceptance letters to prospective students.
A wide variety of colleges are planning a return to a more typical fall, though their announcements often hinge on the coronavirus pandemic improving and their students being able to get vaccinated.
Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, is planning for a “normal fall term” assuming coronavirus cases are low, The Associated Press reported. “There are a lot of caveats, and it may turn out that we are able to increase the number of students on campus substantially but not get to 100%,” the university’s provost said during a weekly campus broadcast, as reported by The AP.
The University of Alabama System said its campuses are planning to hold in-person classes without capacity restrictions, according to a local media report. The leader of the university’s COVID-19 task force said its models indicate it will be able to safely resume classroom and campus activities, though plans could change if the pandemic worsens.
The California State University System was one of the first entities to announce a return to more in-person instruction. It said in early December that most courses would be face to face starting in the fall.
The pandemic appears to be headed in the right direction for these plans to come to fruition. The number of new coronavirus cases has been much lower the past few weeks than it was in December and January, when the U.S. was regularly clocking more than 200,000 positive tests each day. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also recently approved a third vaccine.
However, new coronavirus variants that may be more transmissible or weaken the vaccines’ effectiveness have been spreading. Infectious disease and public health experts say colleges’ best defense against these mutant strains is to stick to proven safety measures, such as regular coronavirus testing and mask-wearing. They also note that the vaccine will still provide some protection.