BREAKING: AU announces it will go fully online for the fall semester
On-campus housing is canceled and tuition will be reduced by 10 percent
AU is going fully online for the fall semester and canceling on-campus housing as a result of changing circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, President Sylvia Burwell and University leadership wrote in an email to the University community on Thursday.
Students who were to receive on- and off-campus housing via the University will have their assignments automatically canceled, Burwell wrote, although a small number facing “extraordinary circumstances” will be eligible to receive emergency housing.
Tuition for graduate and undergraduate online classes will be reduced by 10 percent, Burwell wrote, following moves by George Washington University and Georgetown University to do the same. Howard University and Catholic University still plan on holding hybrid classes with reduced on-campus housing, and have not announced changes for the fall semester in recent weeks.
The decision comes after a new 14-day quarantine requirement following travel to D.C. from any of the coronavirus hot spots in the U.S. Burwell also said that limited COVID-19 testing capacity and the decision by D.C.-area K-12 schools to begin the semester online contributed to the University’s decision.
“This difficult decision is not what any of us hoped for, and we know you are as disappointed as we are,” Burwell wrote. “But we also know that the strength of our community ensures the discourse and relationships that make the American University experience unique will continue to thrive.”
More than a quarter of undergraduate students at AU are from states on the quarantine travel list.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stated earlier this month that first-year students would likely not be able to obtain a visa to study in the U.S. if they enrolled in only online classes. All international students will be able to take AU online classes, according to Senem Bakar, director of International Student and Scholar Services. Immigration transfers may remain or return to the U.S.
Cora Dickey, a graduate journalism student, moved from Virginia Beach to D.C. in June in preparation for the upcoming semester. She is currently undergoing a summer intensive pre- program boot camp.
“For people like me, who put in so much effort to get out here just for everything to blow up in our faces, it’s overwhelming and it's really stressful,” Dickey said.
“I really hope they reconsider,” Dickey said. She added that this news is particularly devastating because of the hands-on nature of her program and she hopes that she will still have access to the equipment necessary for her to sharpen her broadcast skills.
The freshman curriculum will continue as unaffected as possible, AU spokesperson Stacie Burgess wrote in an email.
“Our full schedule of first-year course offerings will continue to be available, including our signature Complex Problems and AUx seminars,” Burgess wrote. “Students participating in learning Communities - such as Honors, CBRS, and University college - will still have opportunities to connect with their faculty, peer leaders, and other students through robust online experiences.”
If freshmen wish to defer their enrollment, they must submit a request to the admissions office, Burgess wrote. Requests will be handled on a case by case basis. Students in the Honors or Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars program will lose their spot if they decide to defer, although they may reapply.
On-campus staff, such as food service workers, will be provided with more guidance in the coming days, Burgess wrote.
Certain research and experiential-based classes may have limited in-person components, Burwell wrote, while libraries will be made available for limited in-person use.
AU’s original fall opening plan called for significantly reduced on-campus housing, multiple types of hybrid classes and mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing. Student reactions were mixed; while many felt that the housing reduction was justified, they questioned how safe reopening could be with students occupying the same buildings and classrooms, even while separated.
Owen McCoy, a rising junior in the School of Public Affairs, said it’s good that AU is recognizing its limitations and working to address them. Universities can’t function as hospitals, especially while trying to fully educate students, so keeping everyone at home is the only option, he said.
McCoy hopes that the landlords of students who already signed leases and now want to cancel them are understanding, but he worries that many will be stuck in a state of limbo in terms of housing in the District. Going forward, he said, it’s vital the University continues to be transparent and open about its decision-making process.
Since classes went online during the spring semester, many students called for a reduction in tuition cost for online classes. Three students sued the University for tuition and fee refunds.
The Board of Trustees voted last year to increase tuition by 3 percent in fiscal years 2020 and 2021. In June, AU pledged to dedicate all additional revenue from this year’s tuition increase to financial aid, but previously said it did not plan to adjust tuition because of the coronavirus.
University finances are projected to take an even greater hit than the $100 million loss most recently projected, Burwell wrote. The administration is working to minimize the loss’s impact on University employees.
“We are hopeful that the AU Forward plan for a residential experience and blended class instruction may be possible in the spring as conditions improve,” Burwell wrote.
Abbie Veitch contributed reporting to this article.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.