U. of I. still planning on-campus instruction this fall, asks new students to commit by May 1

Students are also being given the option of delaying their admission by up to two semesters after they’ve been accepted and can reapply for financial aid if their economic situation has changed.

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. Sun-Times file photo

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. Sun-Times file photo

Sun-Times file

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is planning for students to return to its campus next fall, but it’s offering options for students who can’t return or would prefer to delay starting at the school in the fall after accepting.

In a letter to potential students sent this week, Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions at the state’s largest public university, said the school is “doing all we can to provide an on-campus learning experience for our students in the fall. We are planning for in-person classes to begin as scheduled.”

But Borst also told students if they “are unable to arrive on campus prior to the start of the fall semester,” they will be allowed the option of taking courses online in the fall and switching to on-campus instruction for a subsequent semester.

“A student may elect to take classes through a variety of formats based on their unique circumstances that they will discuss with an academic advisor at our online New Student Registration programs,” Borst said in a follow-up statement to the Sun-Times on Saturday about how students could ask to continue remote learning.

Students were also given the option of delaying their start at the school by up to two semesters after they’ve been accepted, Borst said. But students will not be allowed to take classes at other colleges during that time — including community colleges — if they defer. Students have until August to decide.

Still, whether the state will even allow students to return to campuses in the fall is an open questions — and if they can, whether they should.

“Please be assured that your health and well-being are our highest priority as we consider several scenarios for fall instruction,” the university wrote, telling students additional information would be provided about fall instruction in mid-June.

Healthcare experts have warned of a possible resurgence of the COVID-19 virus in the fall, even if there is a decline in cases over the summer due to social distancing measures and increased testing.

One ongoing study by a sociology professor at Cornell University that analyzed student networks to show how the virus could be spread found that even though the majority of students don’t directly share a class together, those students are still tightly linked across campus.

Analyzing those networks, the study found “73% of students can reach each other in two steps or less, 99% in three steps,” professor Kim Weeden tweeted April 12. The networks “create fertile social conditions for an epidemic spread, even if only considering the connections among students created through courses,” she wrote.

The economic fallout from the pandemic is also likely to be of concern for students. Many state schools, including the U of I, are concerned about a potential drop in enrollment next semester and have asked their representatives in the U.S. Congress for additional funding.

U. of I. also announced it will allow students, whose 2020-2021 FAFSA application may be outdated due to millions of Americans being recently unemployed by shelter-in-place orders, to re-submit updated financial information to the the school’s office of student financial aid to potentially receive additional funding, Borst said. The school also has announced new students will not have to pay a planned 1.8 percent tuition hike that was to take effect next year.

Students planning to attend this fall will still need to accept their offer of admission by May 1, although students can request an extension, according to the letter.

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