Thursday, April 9, 2020

Cal State Coronavirus: Your Questions Answered About how CSUs Are Navigating COVID

Posted By on Thu, Apr 9, 2020 at 8:59 AM

click to enlarge Timothy P. White, Chancellor of the California State University system, prepares to testify on the failure to fully disclose a $1.5 billion surplus in a joint hearing of the Joint Legislative Audit, Senate Education, Assembly Higher Education and Assembly subcommittee on Education Finance committees on August 12, 2019. Photo by - ANNE WERNIKOFF FOR CALMATTERS
  • Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
  • Timothy P. White, Chancellor of the California State University system, prepares to testify on the failure to fully disclose a $1.5 billion surplus in a joint hearing of the Joint Legislative Audit, Senate Education, Assembly Higher Education and Assembly subcommittee on Education Finance committees on August 12, 2019. Photo by

You’ve got questions about how your CSU education will be disrupted during the coronavirus pandemic. Chancellor Tim White has answers. In a wide-ranging discussion with CalMatters’ College Journalism Network on Thursday, the chancellor discussed fee refunds, support for faculty teaching online, and more. Here’s what we learned. For more details, watch the full interview with White here.

I worked for my campus but the job is shut down. Will I still get paid?

Yes, for up to 126 hours worth of work. Chancellor White said student workers will receive paid administrative leave for the same hours and rates they would have earned if they still worked on campus.
“We committed to continue their compensation even if they had to work remotely or if they were, basically, their job disappeared because something closed down,” White said.

What about students who worked on campus for a private franchise like dining or the bookstore? Will they still be paid?

Possibly. White said Cal State itself can’t legally pay auxiliary employees, but is looking at how to pay students using money distributed to the university from the $2 trillion federal stimulus program, the CARES Act. The funds could take the form of a loan that would be forgiven as long as the business does not lay people off. Details are still murky, but White says the university’s legal department is working on it.

Can I get refunds for campus services I won’t be using but already paid for?

Yes, but only for parking, dining and on-campus housing. Campus health centers are still open for people by appointment and for advice or counseling calls, so they need operational money, White said. Health centers and recreation centers also have mortgage payments that campuses can’t get out of, he said.

I am a professor and have trouble teaching my three-hour class online. How can I improve it?

“Don’t worry about the perfect,” White advised. “Think about the things that really matter to our students–content, engagement, the understanding of their life circumstances, and their ability to interact either by asking questions or by chat boxes, or by email, or by phone call… It’s different, but it’s gonna work.”

I don’t have a computer or a good internet connection. How can I learn online?

Campuses have been loaning out laptops and hotspots for students and staff to take home. Some campuses are ordering new devices to meet the demand. Common spaces, like learning labs, were closed to avoid social contact. But some campuses are creating wi-fi zones in parking lots and garages so students can log on without congregating in an enclosed space. White said he expects some funds from the CARES Act to go directly to students as emergency aid, which they could spend to upgrade their technology. 

How much money will CSU get from the federal stimulus package?

The stimulus package prioritizes universities, like CSU, that serve large numbers of low-income students. White estimated it will give  CSU’s smallest campus around $1.2 million. Larger campuses could receive as much as $45 million, although that’s not yet confirmed.

I’m a faculty member and my wifi is not fast enough for online teaching. Will the CSU help pay to upgrade it?

No. White said he expects the additional cost of electricity and wifi upgrades will be offset by the lack of gas spending since you won’t be commuting to campus anymore.

I’m an assistant professor and the pandemic has delayed my research. Will my time to earn tenure be extended?

“We’re not going to let this pandemic hurt the professional lives of people,” White said. The university could pause tenure clocks the way they have done in the past when a faculty member takes parental leave–but White said they hadn’t yet worked out those details.

The CSU had $1.5 billion in reserves, the state auditor reported last year. Will Cal State use that money to cover costs associated with this pandemic?

Yes and no. Some of that reserve, allocated to a rainy day fund, is being used to buy laptops and hotspots. But White does not want to use all of it now since he’s not sure about the long-term ramifications of the pandemic. “It would be malpractice for us to spend down our reserves today with all of the uncertainty that’s facing us in the weeks, months and years ahead,” he said.

We might be in a recession soon, if we’re not already. Does Cal State plan to raise tuition?

“We’re not raising tuition this year, and we don’t plan to raise it next year,” White said. State law requires Cal State to consult with its student government before increasing tuition, and the university called off those talks this year. But White said avoiding them in the future depends on the state giving the university enough funding to sustain operations. “If the state’s unable to do that, then that totally changes the conversation,” he said. “We’d have to reopen that conversation going forward, or we have to get much smaller, or we have to lower the quality of the education.”

Will CSU switch to a more flexible grading policy, like making all classes pass/fail??

The university is leaving that decision up to each individual campus and encouraging them to be flexible. White praised the decision by UC Berkeley to have classes default to pass/fail grading but give students the option to choose a letter grade. “I think that’s where we’re going,” he said.

Is CSU waiving the requirement for applicants to submit SAT and ACT scores, considering the exams won’t be proctored for the near future?

University officials haven’t decided yet what to do about SAT and ACT scores for new applicants, White said. But the campus has relaxed some admissions requirements, including allowing applicants to get credit for high school and community college courses that were taken pass/fail. You can find a detailed outline of admissions policies for 2020 and 2021 here

Some campuses—but not all—have also extended to June 1 the deadline for admitted students to send in their enrollment deposits.

This pandemic has really hurt my family’s finances. Will my financial aid be reevaluated?

Yes. Reach out to your campus financial aid office and explain the situation, White said. “Anytime there is a change in family income or the student’s income—depending on their tax status—that’s all fair game to go in and have your financial aid package reevaluated and reconsidered,” White said. “Some students are at the maximum awards through Cal Grant or the state university grant or Pell, and others have room to go up.”

How is the CSU helping combat the pandemic?

Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo is using their recreation center as overflow space for local hospitals. At least eight other campuses are talking about the use of their buildings as well. The Fresno County Health Department is using a Fresno State lab for COVID-19 testing.

Will summer or fall sessions also go online?

No one knows, but plan on classes being virtual.

“We would be foolish not to be considering this fall, that we’re going to continue being in a largely virtual state, White said “It’d be better to plan in that direction, it seems to me and then be able to pull back from that, than  to cross our fingers and [say], ‘Oh my God, I just hope this is over by fall.’ ”

McGloin is a fellow with CalMatters’ College Journalism Network. Our reporters will continue to follow up on readers’ questions about how the pandemic is affecting colleges and universities. If you have a question for us, let us know using the form below. This story and other higher education coverage are supported by the College Futures Foundation. is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.
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