Cornell is plowing ahead with in-person classes, tuition increase, contrary to other Ivy League schools

A model by one of its professors concluded that in-person classes were a better option.

Cornell University will reopen its campus in Ithaca, N.Y., for in-person classes in the fall semester, while other Ivy League schools have decided to stick with mostly online learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Cornell has rolled out a series of precautions to ensure the safety of about 15,000 undergraduate students ahead of Sept. 2, when classes will resume.

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The measures include mandatory masks for students and faculty, reduced classroom capacity, social distancing in classrooms, and frequent screenings for COVID-19, Cornell University President Martha Pollack said in a letter posted online.

While it plans for an in-person semester, the university said it will also offer remote learning for those who cannot return to campus.

Cornell University buildings in Ithaca, N.Y., as viewed from McGraw Tower. (iStock)

Cornell University buildings in Ithaca, N.Y., as viewed from McGraw Tower. (iStock)

Pollack said in the letter that it is “a better option” to hold in-person classes, when coupled with robust virus screening, rather than an online-only semester -- following epidemiological modeling by one of its professors, Peter Frazier.

This “counterintuitive result” stems from the university’s ability to control screenings, quarantining, and other measures on campus versus its inability to do so if students lived off-campus, according to Pollack.

"If we have a residential, on-campus semester, then we have the authority to put all kinds of expectations and requirements on our students," Pollack told Inside Higher Ed. "If we were only in an online basis, then it would be really difficult to impose regulations on students who happen to be living in Ithaca, as opposed to, say, happen to be living in Atlanta or San Francisco."

Despite the pandemic, Cornell is maintaining its 3.6 percent tuition increase for the upcoming school year, the Cornell Daily Sun reported. The university said it projects $210 million in losses related to the pandemic this coming fiscal year, having already reported losses of $45 million in the current fiscal year.

Other Ivy League schools are also coming to decisions on how to approach learning during the pandemic.

Princeton University announced Monday that it plans to hold mostly online courses, while still inviting undergraduates to return to campus for one semester of the 2020-21 academic year. First-year students and juniors can attend in the fall, with sophomores and seniors returning in the spring.

Harvard University made a similar announcement Monday, stating that all undergraduate and graduate courses for the academic year will be held online even though the campus will reopen to some students.

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The university said it will invite up to 40 percent of its students back to live on campus for the fall semester, including all first-year students and those who have trouble with remote learning. However, Harvard noted that even those students living on campus will have to learn remotely to avoid the current health risks of in-person courses.