How Does Catholic University’s Spring Semester Plan Compare to Other D.C. Universities?


Image Courtesy of Religion News Service

By Jessica Fetrow

In an email addressed to members of the university community, Catholic University President John Garvey announced several updates to the spring 2021 semester, including adjustments to the academic calendar, extended opportunities for on-campus housing, and the transition to a “majority” of in-person courses. 

The letter, released on November 18, in addition to a statement previously released on October 27, announced that there would be several adjustments made to the academic calendar for the spring semester. Most notably, it was announced that winter recess would be extended by one week and classes would commence on January 25, instead of the previously scheduled date of January 11. 

In connection to the delay of classes, the elimination of a spring recess was announced to “eliminate the need for another quarantine, because of travel, in the middle of the semester, which would be disruptive to in-person classes and residence life.” It was also announced that Easter recess will be abbreviated and that classes will be held on Holy Thursday and Easter Monday, while classes will not be held on Good Friday. 

On-campus housing has been extended to all undergraduate students. According to Housing Services, 600 students completed the on-campus housing interest form for the spring semester, and assignments were given on a first-come-first-serve basis. Students who choose to live on campus are required to participate in an on-campus dining plan and will reside in single-occupancy housing arrangements. Students who lived on campus during the fall semester will be able to continue residing in their pre-assigned dorms. 

Students will be required to quarantine for two weeks upon their return from winter break and will be expected to follow CDC regulations and guidelines. The university will continue to promote social distancing, hand-washing, and mask-wearing. Residence halls bathrooms will receive enhanced cleaning once more students return to campus.

A “majority” of classes are expected to be held in person, with most other classes being offered in a hybrid format, and the 10% tuition discount will not be extended to the spring semester. No further decisions have been made regarding the 2021 Commencement ceremony.

“The course of the virus is unpredictable, as the current spike in infections shows. Safety will remain our first priority,” said Garvey in his letter to the community. “We must be prepared to change our responses if conditions warrant. The plans we have laid have benefited from the input of hundreds of members of our community.”

The recent announcements by Catholic University for the upcoming semester were released around the same time as other Washington, D.C. universities released their plans for the 2021 spring semester.

As reported by George Washington University’s independent student newspaper The Hatchet on October 9, all undergraduate classes and most graduate classes would continue to be conducted virtually during the spring 2021 semester. Additionally, university officials announced that there would be an additional 1,500 on-campus housing opportunities offered to students on a first-come-first-serve basis. Previously, approximately 500 students with extreme housing circumstances utilized on-campus housing during the fall 2020 semester. 

It was also announced that 10% of tuition discounts will continue throughout the spring semester to Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon undergraduate students who do not live on campus. University officials do not anticipate an in-person Commencement ceremony being held in the spring.

In a report released by American University’s independent student newspaper The Eagle on October 26, the university plans to conduct a “majority” of courses online, “due to the trajectory of the coronavirus and lessons learned at other schools in recent months.” Although most courses will continue to be conducted online, in-person classes will expand to the sciences, visual and performing arts, media studies, and other selected areas, which will double the total number of in-person classes offered in the fall. 

“Decisions regarding our spring operating status are based upon the values that have guided us throughout the pandemic— protecting the health and safety of our community, advancing our education and research mission, and supporting the broader COVID-19 response in the Washington, DC, region,” said the university in a statement.

In a similar approach to that of Catholic University, classes will start on January 19, one week later than originally planned, and spring break will be canceled. On-campus housing opportunities will remain “limited” for students “with specific programmatic requirements.” AU Community of Care tuition discounts will continue throughout the spring semester.

Nearby Howard University announced via university communications on November 16 that the university will continue to conduct “a vast majority” of its undergraduate classes remotely, and graduate and professional programs will also continue “either primarily or fully” online with limited exceptions. Residence halls remain closed with limited exceptions for students in “extraordinary circumstances.” The Axis apartment living opportunities for students will remain open for the spring semester. 

The university also announced that winter break will be extended an additional week and that classes will resume on January 25. Two to three mental health days will also be added to the spring academic calendar, and no decision has been made regarding the university’s 2021 Commencement ceremony.

As reported by Georgetown University’s independent student newspaper The Hoya on November 16, Georgetown University administrators announced the university’s plan to bring as many as 500 seniors back to campus for the spring semester. The university also plans to host up to 200 hybrid classes during the semester. 

In an effort to minimize travel, classes will now start on January 25, and both spring and Easter breaks will be combined into one break from March 26 to April 5.

“We are entering what we expect will be the most difficult months of the pandemic,” said Georgetown University President John DeGioia. “We will monitor the status of the pandemic throughout November and December to determine whether we can achieve our goals for the start of the spring semester. Once the spring semester is underway, we will continue to closely monitor and, when necessary, adjust our approach.”

While the plans of action announced by nearby Washington, D.C. universities show many similarities, Catholic University’s decision to transition to mostly in-person instruction for the spring 2021 semester appears to be the biggest disparity. However, the university remains committed to staying “as open as is safely possible.” Members of the university community with questions or suggestions are encouraged to contact [email protected].

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