Colleges Plan to Go Remote to Start 2022 as Omicron Spreads

COVID-19 concerns are prompting some schools — most notably Harvard — to return to online learning for the start of next semester.
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  • University officials are preparing for a potential January spike in COVID-19 cases.
  • Some schools didn't announce a decision until late December.
  • Virtually all institutions urged students to get vaccinated or boosted over winter break.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise and the threat of the omicron variant rising, colleges and universities across the U.S. are beginning to take measures that will impact the start of the spring 2022 semester.

Notably, Harvard University was one of the first schools to announce a transition to fully online learning to start 2022. However, it was not the only school to do so — universities along both coasts alerted students throughout December that they may temporarily be kept out of classrooms when courses resume in January.

A Move to Distance Learning

Harvard University, Stanford University, and DePaul University headline the list of institutions that have already announced delayed on-campus starts to the spring 2022 semester.

Harvard has opted to convert the first three weeks of classes into remote learning in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19 and the omicron variant. In a recent statement, President Lawrence Bacow said the school made the decision to alter the start of the semester based on input from public health experts the university has consulted throughout the pandemic.

"Please know that we do not take this step lightly," Bacow said. "As always, we make this decision with the health and safety of our community as our top priority."

He added that only students who have previously been authorized to remain on campus or those with special permission should plan to return earlier than when in-person classes resume. Others, however, should remain home if possible.

List of U.S. Colleges Delaying Return to On-Campus Classes in Early 2022

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Total Number of Schools: 186 | Last Updated: February 14, 2022

The schools listed above are in the United States only and may be delaying the start of in-person learning on a fully online, hybrid, or optional face-to-face basis. For more information, please click the link provided for each college. Reporting and data collection for this list has been provided by Matthew Arrojas, Alex Pasquariello, and Reece Johnson. Much of the information in this table was taken from this crowdsourced document.

Both Stanford and DePaul have canceled on-campus classes until after Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 17. Students will begin the term with two weeks of online learning.

"The current uncertainty around Omicron poses a number of logistical challenges for the start of in-person classes, particularly if students either test positive over the break and cannot travel back to campus on time, or test positive upon arrival and need to isolate," Stanford Provost Persis Drell said in a statement.

Drell added that students may return to campus sooner than Jan. 18 if they test negative for COVID-19. DePaul laid out similar guidelines.

Gerri Taylor, co-chair of the American College Health Association's COVID-19 task force, told BestColleges that students who received a vaccine in the summer of 2021 may see their immunity beginning to wear off at the start of next year. Therefore, this delayed start to the semester may help avoid January spikes in COVID-19 cases on college campuses.

She said the delay may also give students the chance to get booster shots, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all adults receive.

"Students, faculty, and staff should get vaccinated [as soon as possible] and those who are vaccinated should get boosted as soon as eligible," Taylor said.

Some schools considered moving toward remote learning, but ultimately decided against it. Pennsylvania State University told students to "be prepared to alter plans, should the university need to start the spring semester remotely," but the school will return with in-person classes as planned.

“Our students, faculty and staff have a very high vaccination rate, we are testing weekly those who are not vaccinated, and we are continuing to require face masks to be worn indoors,” Penn State President Eric Barron said in a statement. “With these measures in place, together with hospitalization data and what we are learning about omicron, we believe we can safely, but carefully, return to on-campus classes and activities as planned.”

Barron urged students to get tested before returning to campus. He also encouraged students to get a booster.