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7/14/2020 - Fall Term and 2020-2021 Academic Year Plans

To: The Caltech Community
    Joseph E. Shepherd, Vice President for Student Affairs
    David A. Tirrell, Provost
    Thomas F. Rosenbaum, President

Over the last several months, staff, administrators, faculty, and students have engaged deeply in planning the instructional, research, and residential student experience for the 2020-2021 academic year, with an emphasis on the fall term. Their work has been comprehensive and data driven, and has included a survey of newly admitted and current students, an assessment of course offerings, a survey of teaching faculty, a study of facilities and models of living and learning environments, and consultation with peer institutions, government officials, and public health officers. The aim of this extensive process has been to sustain Caltech's commitment to research and education while prioritizing the health and safety of the members of our community.

At a time of great uncertainty and with surges in COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County and other parts of the country, it is important to keep in mind that any plan for the 2020-2021 academic year is subject to change. We may need to adjust the approach outlined below as pandemic conditions shift in the weeks and months ahead. In particular, new directives from state, county, and city health and government officials may require us to revise our plan.

At the same time, we understand that everyone in our community needs information about the path ahead in order to plan for the next academic year.

The integral aspects of Caltech's approach for the fall term and the 2020-2021 academic year follow. Details to clarify the approach as it pertains to on-campus housing and dining facilities, student experience and activities, and required health and safety measures are available on the Fall 2020 Plan webpage. Furthermore, this initial communication will be supplemented by updates from the administrative and academic offices charged with implementing the plan.

Academic Instruction

We are committed to ensuring that faculty and instructors continue to meet Caltech's high academic and educational standards independent of instructional format, and that students, wherever they are, will be able to succeed.

With these principles in mind, we have developed the following instructional framework for fall term:

  • Instruction will take place through a hybrid model with a combination of remote and in-person instruction.
  • A pre-approved list of courses that require in-person activity will be offered on campus, with all other courses being conducted remotely. A variety of online tools and resources will be available for instructors and students to enhance learning. Special opportunities for collaboration and discussion will be introduced.
  • The term will start as scheduled on September 29. However, all in-person instruction will be completed before the Thanksgiving break, to allow students to travel home and stay home for the remainder of calendar year 2020. The final week of classes, and all final exams, will be delivered remotely.

We anticipate that the winter and spring terms will follow a similar instructional model, but we will continue to assess the situation and provide updates as we move into the fall.

Undergraduate Housing

Physical distancing and reduced density in shared environments are essential to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. For this reason, we will reduce the number of undergraduate students in Caltech housing from full capacity to approximately one-third of the undergraduate student body for the fall term.

Rooms in all on-campus undergraduate residences will be limited to single occupancy. This will reduce student density in the residences and will maintain an appropriate student-to-restroom ratio. For fall term, and perhaps for the remainder of the 2020-2021 academic year, Avery and the South Houses will be reserved as quarantine and isolation spaces for residential students who fall ill or become symptomatic.

To support the limited re-occupation of on-campus residences, we expect to invite undergraduate students to campus in the stages that follow. It is important to emphasize that changes in public health conditions and government directives at any time may restrict our ability to accommodate all groups of students.

  1. Continuing students whose essential academic progress this year requires enrollment in courses with in-person components.
  2. International students whose presence on campus is required for maintenance of immigration status.
  3. Students who demonstrate that their personal, financial, or academic situation requires special consideration for on-campus housing.
  4. First-year and new transfer students, along with some upper-class student advisors to support the residential experience of other students.

Depending on availability of space, continuing students who may have a nonacademic reason to be on campus, such as student athletes, also may have an opportunity to return to campus.

Undergraduates who are invited and elect to live on campus on the basis of essential academic progress will be able to reside in housing on a term-by-term basis. At the point at which first-year, transfer, and international students would be invited to live on campus, we expect to be able to offer them residence for the full academic year. No student will be required to come to campus; those who prefer to remain away from Caltech and continue to attend remotely will be allowed to do so.

Student Affairs will issue email invitations to students who meet the above residential criteria. These students will be expected to either affirm their decision to return or decline the offer of on-campus housing in accordance with the deadlines shared in the invitation and the process timeline made available online. This will allow for an accurate accounting of rooms at each stage and consideration of invitations to other student groups.

Students who elect to return to the Pasadena area and find their own accommodation in the community will have access to campus facilities in ways that are consistent with current guidelines for faculty, graduate students, and staff. It is important to note, however, that movement around campus will be significantly limited and these students will not have access to the campus undergraduate residences.

Undergraduate Cost of Attendance

Previously announced tuition costs for the 2020-21 academic year will remain in effect. Room and board fees for those who live on-campus will be prorated to reflect early dismissal from housing at Thanksgiving break. Incoming students' orientation fee and the house activity fee assessment that is currently part of all undergraduate students' mandatory fees will be waived for the upcoming academic year.1

In addition, students' financial aid offers will be calculated using a COVID-19 on-campus living allowance of $5,779 per term to help defray living expenses for students even if they live off-campus.

Caltech is fully committed to ensuring that our academic programs are accessible to our students during this challenging time and encourage students and families to reach out to the Financial Aid Office with questions or concerns they may have.

Campus Life and Activities

Caltech recognizes the value of student social activities and appreciates that these are an integral part of the college experience. That said, current guidance from city, county, and state health authorities restricts such activities and requires strict enforcement of physical distancing and additional preventative health measures.

The Office of Residential Experience will develop and distribute guidance around the rules and requirements for informal and formal interactions. All residential students will be expected to follow the established guidelines. The use of lounges and other shared spaces will be prohibited.

Staff will create opportunities for students to interact with faculty and instructional staff members and, where feasible, to engage with in-person and virtual experiences in athletics, physical education, and the visual and performing arts.

All dining on campus has been reconfigured in accordance with local health protocols to support take-away and outdoor dining only.

If state and local restrictions relax, we will assess our processes and update our rules and guidance accordingly.

Health and Safety Measures

It is the responsibility of all members of the community to support the health and wellbeing of the entire community and to mitigate the spread of infection on campus. For students who will reside on campus, this is especially important given their interaction with individuals across the community.

As a condition of enrollment, all students will be expected to abide by the terms of the Caltech Community Commitment. This will establish a shared understanding of, and commitment to comply with, outlined principles and preventative health measures that can help ensure the entire community's health and wellbeing. These measures include agreeing to perform regular self-symptom checks and temperature monitoring, to complete daily reports of campus locations visited, to wear a cloth face covering at all times when in the presence of others, and to maintain appropriate physical distance with individuals in residences and across campus. In addition to this Commitment, students in residence must abide by the terms of the Student Affairs Policy on Health and Hygiene.

Next Steps

Thank you for your continued partnership as we respond to the global health crisis that has profoundly affected all of us, and has temporarily transformed the research and instructional experience at Caltech. No one can foresee with confidence how this pandemic will progress. We do know, however, that COVID-19 will be with us as we return to campus in the fall, and that associated challenges require all of us to track and conform closely to evolving policies and guidelines that reduce the risk of spreading infection.

We will continue to monitor the situation and to keep you informed of updates as they arise. We also invite you to review the Undergraduate FAQs answered on the Fall 2020 Plan webpage. An invitation to participate in a conversation with members of campus leadership on the decision is forthcoming.

1 Please note: An earlier version of this sentence was not clear about which fees in particular would be waived and we have updated accordingly.