General overall view of Laney College in the wake of coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in Oakland. (Photo by Andrew Reed/EdSource)

* This report will be updated to include the latest developments. It was last updated on at 6 p.m. on April 3.

Q:  Are California’s colleges and universities closed for instruction?

A: In general, all California’s colleges are now closed for most in-person instruction until the end of the school year.

Because of California’s size, and the number of different colleges, there are many differences in exact schedules and how instruction will be offered, and it is best to consult with the websites of individual campuses.

At all University of California undergraduate campuses and at all 23 California State University campuses, courses have been moved to virtual modes. Many of those universities initially said some courses that are difficult to transition to online learning, such as lab classes, would continue to meet face-to-face, but even those classes are now being moved online.

All of the community college system’s 114 traditional colleges have suspended many of their in-person classes and transitioning as many as possible to online. Regarding lab classes and other courses that are difficult to transition online, the California Community Colleges’s guidance to colleges states: “Colleges are moving to using simulation software or looking at simulation software in place of in-person training. Colleges that are still offering in-person training will practice local or state social distancing guidelines.”

Q: When will colleges reopen for in-person instruction?

A:  College administrators are expecting that they will be open in the fall, but no one can tell at this point when colleges will reopen. Colleges are also not making predictions about whether they will be open for summer sessions.

Q: What resources are available to professors and instructors who are unfamiliar with teaching online? 

A: A vast amount of material and tools are available for online instruction, which most colleges have offered in some form already, although not to the extent that they will be called on to offer in the coming months.  Some colleges are more prepared than others for this transition. Some colleges and universities are providing their own webinars and training sessions to help their instructors make the transition to online instruction. The challenge will be greatest for faculty with little or no experience with distance learning.

Many digital learning experts are offering advice and tools online. Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education has a collection of resources and tips for educators and families, including college instructors transitioning from the classroom to at-home learning.

Educause, an education technology association, offers some advice for professors transitioning quickly from face-to-face instruction online. The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University also offers some advice.

And two new Facebook groups have emerged to help teachers and professors share ideas and strategies for transitioning their classrooms from in-person to online: Teaching in the Time of Corona: Resources and Pandemic Pedagogy.

The California Community Colleges Accessibility Center will host a series of webinars starting this week to focus on accessible practices for online teaching. The sessions are offered twice a day through April 9.

Q: Will college students be able to receive refunds for their dorm and dining plans? What about tuition? 

A: Universities and colleges say that students who left their dorms can receive prorated refunds for their housing and food plans, along with rebates for campus recreation and parking fees in some cases.

Students in private, off-campus housing are unlikely to receive rental rebates if their leases are still in force.

As for tuition, nearly 50,000 people have signed a petition to persuade the University of California system to provide a partial tuition refund. “We pay money for going to classes, seeing professors and having one to one meetings during office hours,” said Rose Oganesian, a UC Irvine freshman who organized the petition. However, spokespersons for both UC and California State University schools are insisting that online classes are worth the value of full tuition and that the universities will not reduce or refund a portion of students’ tuition costs.

Q: Should I travel for spring break?

A: In general, students in California should not travel for spring break. as the state has ordered residents to “shelter in place.” Many college and university spring breaks occur through March and April. Students should contact their campus for updated information about when the spring break will occur.

Q: What about upcoming commencement/graduation ceremonies? Will they be held?

A: Many colleges and universities are postponing or canceling those ceremonies. But most arrangements and replacement dates remain unsettled, along with the possibility of holding online graduations. It now seems highly unlikely that any graduation ceremonies will be held in May. And some schools with commencements set for late June — when “shelter in place” rules may be lifted — still are considering how to proceed. Check college websites for the latest information.

Q:  What about students who were planning on spending some or all of next year at an international program?  Are those programs still planning on being open?

A:   This is an evolving situation and you should consult the website of the programs you hope to participate in. All UC Education Abroad Programs for this summer has been canceled. No announcement has been made regarding fall programs. CSU says it has suspended all its study abroad programs but has not made any announcement regarding summer or fall programs.

Q: How are high school seniors being affected in terms of making a decision about what college they will attend?

A: High school seniors headed to universities usually have until May 1 to make tuition deposits and commit to the school that they will attend in the fall, but the spread of the coronavirus could make those decisions more difficult.

Some universities have already canceled their admitted student days when prospective students are invited to campus for a day of events to learn more about the college. Universities also have suspended campus tours.

At the University of California system, the deposit deadline for incoming freshmen remains May 1.

The California State University system has so far announced no across the board plans, but several CSU campuses have announced plans to delay deposit deadlines to June 1. Those include CSU’s Cal Poly Pomona, Channel Islands, Chico, Dominguez Hills, Humboldt, San Bernardino, San Francisco and San Marcos campuses.

As for other Cal State campuses, the chancellor’s office is leaving it up to each individual campus to determine whether to delay the May 1 deadline, said Toni Molle, a spokeswoman for the system’s chancellor’s office. “We expect that other campuses will be making decisions about this in the near future but don’t have a timeframe to share,” Molle said.

Q: Is there any assistance available for repaying federal student loans? 

A: For non-students who are paying back federal loans, or if you have chosen to pay off your loans while you are in college, you can suspend your payments for six months as part of the $2 trillion economic stimulus package signed by President Trump.

Because of the impact of the coronavirus, interest rates on some federally held student loans will automatically be set at zero percent for six months, as well. Borrowers won’t have to worry about accruing interest if they choose to suspend their payments.

Borrowers also can continue making payments. The full payment would go toward the principal balance of the loan. However, the new stimulus law doesn’t apply to every type of federal loan. It excludes loans that are guaranteed by the government, but not held by it, for example, Federal Family Education Loans don’t qualify.

Q:  Will faculty still be expected to work?

A: Yes. Most classes are being converted to online instruction, so faculty will still teach their courses via Zoom, Canvas and other remote methods.

Q:  What if I don’t have internet access, or not reliable access, at my home?

A: For students who are enrolled at a community college but don’t have internet access at home, the system’s guidance to students notes that several internet providers are offering free or reduced-cost internet access. Go here for more information on those services.

Community college students who don’t have a computer or other device to take classes online should check with their local college for possible laptop loan programs, according to the guidance.

Students who attend a four-year university and don’t have the internet at home should check in with officials at their universities. Students at California State University or University of California campuses have the option of remaining on campus, where there is internet.

Q: What am I expected to do if I am unable to live with my family during this period?

A:   Many public colleges and universities across the state are continuing to provide housing and dining for students who are unable to leave, like international students or those who lack stable homes like foster care students or others who risk becoming homeless if they leave campus.

Q:  Will mental health and other support services normally offered by my college be available during this transitional period?

A: Some on-campus counseling and mental health offices have closed, but are offering video and phone visits. Counseling and psychological services at CSU Long Beach, for example, remain available by phone.  Some services like UC San Diego Health remain open for students who need urgent care.  In general, students should check with the counseling and student support service offices on their campuses, and take advantage of whatever options are offered during this difficult time.

Q:  Will students still get the same financial aid they were receiving before?

A:   Students’ financial aid situations will vary from person to person and campus to campus but they will continue to have access to financial aid advisers and counselors online or by phone. The Federal Student Aid Office advises students to contact their school if they have questions.

If a campus moves classes from in-person to online, students should continue to participate so they can remain eligible for financial aid. There are different requirements for maintaining federal and state financial aid and grants. Students should consult with their financial aid offices for how changes made on their campus will impact their financial aid.

Students who receive community college promise grants should work with their local campus to determine if any actions are needed to retain those grants, according to the community college chancellor’s office.

Some colleges may continue to pay Federal Work-Study wages to students if their campus temporarily closes due to the coronavirus pandemic and they’re unable to work, or if because of the crisis they were laid off from their off-campus work-study job.

Q: Has any admissions criteria changed for incoming students?

A: The University of California and California State University systems have relaxed some of their admissions criteria for incoming freshmen and transfer students.

High school seniors can submit credit/no credit grades in place of traditional letter grades for A-G courses completed in winter, spring or summer 2020. A-G courses are the set of high school classes students must take to be eligible to attend one of the nine UC undergraduate campuses or one of the 23 CSU campuses.

Community college students planning to transfer to a CSU or UC campus can also submit credit/no credit grades for prerequisite classes completed during the same time frame.

Universities are also giving students flexibility for submitting their official transcripts, which are typically due in July. The UC and CSU systems are still requesting that final transcripts be submitted by their usual deadlines but say they won’t rescind admission offers for late transcripts.

The UC system also is suspending the SAT and ACT requirement for current high school juniors for this upcoming year because of widespread testing cancellations. The CSU system is reviewing whether to also drop its testing requirements for 2021 admissions.

Q:  How will students be graded this semester?

A: Many college and university students have said regular A-F grades should be replaced by a pass/fail evaluation system this spring. Some students want the option of choosing between the two types of grades until face-to-face teaching can resume.

The California Community Colleges are waiving the deadline for students to select a pass/no pass grading option instead of a traditional letter grade. Students also will be allowed to retake any class attempted during the coronavirus crisis, if they do, grades from their first attempt will not count toward their grade point averages.

However, academic calendars complicate the issue for some colleges. Some campuses are just now starting their spring quarters. But all the others were in the middle of their spring semesters when regular classes ended and professors have to figure out how to weigh students’ achievements before and after that point.

Colleges across the state are responding in a variety of ways. UC Berkeley, for example, is switching to pass/no pass system this semester but will allow students to request a letter grade. Meanwhile, UCLA is keeping letter grades but allowing students to opt-in to pass/no pass grading for as many courses as they want, unlike the usual one per term allowed. Cal State campuses are studying how to expand the number of courses a student can take as credit or no credit and also how far to extend the deadlines for such choices

* EdSource higher education reporters Ashley Smith, Larry Gordon and Michael Burke contributed to this report.

Story originally published by EdSource.