In the beginning of July, Princeton University laid out plans for a revolving return to on-campus classes, focused around keeping the student body small enough to remain safely socially distanced all the way through the 2020-2021 school year. Freshmen and juniors were going to attend fall semester on campus, and sophomores and seniors would get spring semester. In both cases, most classwork would take place online. The plans laid out at the time included limiting who could live in dorms, banning large gatherings, and curbing class sizes.

But those plans were made with the expectation that COVID-19 numbers in the U.S. would be trending down by now, and they’re not. More than 2 million new cases were reported between that announcement and the first weekend of August, including an apparent new spike as schools in other states have reopened. So, plans have changed.

“In light of the diminished benefits and increased risks currently associated with residential education amid New Jersey’s battle against the pandemic, we have decided that our undergraduate program should be fully remote in the fall semester of 2020,” said Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber on August 7, 2020, in a letter to the Princeton community.

Exceptions will be made for a very few students, such as seniors involved in research projects that can’t be done remotely, or students with home situations incompatible with online study.

Whether or not this decision will also encompass spring semester will be determined in the early weeks of 2021.

“If we are able to do so, our highest priority will be to bring back seniors in the Class of 2021,” said Eisgruber’s letter. But it also stresses that there are no guarantees.

On the brighter side of things, though, Princeton also announced that it would be discounting its tuition for the 2020-21 school year by 10 percent, acknowledging that many will benefit less from a digital university experience than from the full thing.

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