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Cal State University Announces Virtual Fall Semester, Provoking Debate About Reopening Schools

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  • California State University will be continuing classes online during the fall semester. 
  • Cal State is the biggest four-year public university system in the U.S., and it is now the first large American university to tell students it will not be holding in-person classes this fall.
  • The move has prompted many to wonder if other colleges, the vast majority of which have said they will re-open in the fall, will follow suit.
  • Many schools are struggling financially with the closures and will suffer significantly if they remain shut down. At the same time, students are not sure if they will commit or return to schools that are unsafe or online. 

Cal State Announcement

California State University, the largest four-year public university system in the country, announced Tuesday that it will be keeping classes online during the fall semester at all of its 23 schools.

“This planning approach is necessary because a course that might begin in a face-to-face modality would likely have to be switched to a virtual format during the term if a serious second wave of the pandemic occurs, as forecast,” Cal State Chancellor Timothy White said in a statement.

“This virtual planning approach preserves as many options for as many students as possible.”

Notably, White did say there would be possible exceptions for clinical nursing classes, some science labs, and other essential programs to be held in person, but noted that will only happen when “rigorous health and safety requirements are in place.”

The move marks a significant departure from the current plans universities all over the country have laid out for the upcoming fall semester.

The Cal State system, which is home to more than half a million students, is the first large U.S. university to tell students they will not be holding in-person classes this fall. 

According to reports, only a few schools have said that they will hold fall classes online, and most of them are small.

Several other colleges have proposed or said they will implement some kind of hybrid model, but the vast majority are currently planning for in-person classes this fall.

Risks and Considerations for Colleges

The noteworthy move from Cal State has prompted many to wonder if other universities will begin to take the same course of action.

While some experts say Cal State’s decision could have a significant impact on other colleges, there are a lot of other factors that go into that choice. Unfortunately, one of the biggest is money.

Even before the pandemic, many higher education institutions were already struggling financially. Since mid-March, when colleges were forced to shut down, the situation has gotten a lot worse as major sources of revenue have begun drying up.

Sporting events have been canceled, housing payments and some other tuition-related expenses have been repaid to students. Smaller sources like study abroad programs and campus bookstores have also disappeared.

Already, some schools have said they have lost hundreds of millions of dollars and that the $14 billion federal aid package in the stimulus bill is not nearly enough.

All of that is expected to get much worse if schools remain shuttered for the fall semester.

“Most colleges and universities are tuition dependent,” Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University wrote in a New York Times op-ed last month.

“Remaining closed in the fall means losing as much as half of our revenue. This loss, only a part of which might be recouped through online courses, would be catastrophic.”

“It’s not a question of whether institutions will be forced to permanently close, it’s how many,” she added.

To make matters more complicated, there are now major concerns that a growing number of students will sit out the fall semester, which would seriously hurt schools even more.

Last month, the American Council on Education, a higher education trade group, predicted that enrollment for the next academic year will drop by 15%, including 25% for international students.

Concerns for Students

With all the worry about health and safety and the uncertainty about campuses re-opening, tons of new students are not sure if they will go to school in the fall.

According to a survey conducted by the higher-education consulting firm the Art & Science Group, 35% of prospective college students said they are planning to take a gap year, and another 35% said they will enroll part-time.

The same also goes for students that would otherwise be returning. A poll by Top Hat found that more than a quarter of college students are unsure of whether they will return to their current college or university in the fall.

While a hard decision, taking time off from school makes sense for many students. So much is still up in the air, and some worry about committing to starting college online or committing to a school now that might decide to shut down later.

Virtual learning is also not for everyone. According to a report in the Harvard Crimson, after the prestigious university announced it would hold classes in the fall— either online or in-person— more than 700 students and parents signed a petition calling on the school to postpone its fall semester rather than have online classes.

There is also the matter of costs. Going to college is expensive, and a lot of people do not want to pay for a four-year university if part of that is online. Already, more than two dozen schools are facing lawsuits from students demanding tuition refunds for spring semesters.

To that point, many schools have not been at all transparent about how or if tuition costs will change. 

In both Cal State’s Tuesday announcement and the Board of Trustees meeting that followed, there was zero mention of tuition cuts. At one point, several trustees even urged the board not to increase tuition costs to help pay for the online fall semester.

On top of that, with the economy faltering, there may be students who were planning on going to college but now cannot afford it.

There are also health concerns to think about. While these schools rush to open up, it is important to consider how they are factoring in financial incentives versus the safety of students.

But the big question still remains: can students return safety in the fall?

Cal State’s announcement came the same day that Dr. Anthony Fauci testified at a Senate hearing on coronavirus, where he warned against reopening schools too soon.

“The idea of having treatments available, or a vaccine, to facilitate the reentry of students into the fall term would be something of a bit of a bridge too far,” he said.

“We don’t see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school this term. What they really want is to know if they are safe.” 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Los Angeles Times) (Axios)

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Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices

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A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that the top five oil companies earned over 300% more in profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same period last year.


As Consumer Prices Climb, Big Oil Profits

American oil companies are facing increased scrutiny over profiteering practices as gas prices continue to surpass record highs driven by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

Last week, costs surged to above $4 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time ever, according to the auto club AAA. Prices are currently averaging over $4.59 per gallon nationwide, which is 50% higher than they were this time last year.

In addition to consumers hurting at the pump, there are also rising concerns for industries that rely on fuel and oil like trucking, freight, airlines, and plastic manufacturers. 

To account for high prices, some in sectors have responded by ramping up prices further down the supply chain to account for costs, putting even more of a burden on consumers to pay for everyday items.

But as Americans struggle with sky-high gas prices at a time of record inflation, recently released earnings reports show that many of the world’s largest oil companies thrived in the first quarter of 2022.

ExxonMobil more than doubled its earnings from the same period last year, reporting a net profit of $5.5 billion. Meanwhile, Chevron logged its best quarterly earnings in almost a decade, and Shell had its highest earnings ever.

According to a new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, the top five oil companies — including the three mentioned above —  earned over 300% more in profits this quarter than during the same time last year.

“In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period,” the report noted.

Per Insider, for at least four of those companies, that growth marks a tremendous increase in profits from even before the pandemic.

Lawmakers Ramp-Up Efforts to Reduce Prices

To address these startling disparities, federal lawmakers have moved in recent weeks to increase pressure on oil companies and take steps to lower prices.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill proposed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) that aims to reduce gas prices. The legislation, called The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, would give the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration that would be effective for up to 30 days with the possibility of being renewed.

In that emergency period, it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices to a level that is exploitative or “unconscionably excessive.” 

The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage instances of price gouging from larger companies and give state authorities the ability to enforce price-gouging violations in civil courts.

The bill, which has already seen widespread opposition from Republicans and extensive lobbying from pro-oil interest groups, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.

During debate on the act Thursday, Rep. Porter delivered an impassioned speech accusing oil companies of driving their record profits by using their market power to unfairly increase prices.

“The oil and gas industry currently has more than 9,000 permits to drill for oil on federal land, but they are deliberately keeping production low to please their investors and increase their short-term profits,” she said. “Even when the price of crude oil falls, oil and gas companies have refused to pass those savings on to consumers.”

“Let me be clear: price gouging is anti-capitalist,” Porter continued. “It exploits a lack of competition, which is a hallmark of capitalism. It is an effort to juice corporate profits at the expense of customers. Energy markets are reeling because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Big oil companies, however, are using this temporary chaos to cover up their abuse.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (NPR)

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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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