Deering Library on the NU campus.

For weeks, Northwestern University has been saying that most of its classes this fall will be held remotely, with only a small share meeting in person on campus. Today, we got an idea of how small.

University Registrar Jaci Casazza said at a webinar session this noon that a little over 60 percent of classes have been booked so far — and, of those, only about a quarter will have any classroom component.

Only 1.8% of the seats in undergraduate classes will be in traditional, on campus classroom instruction.

Another 13.5% of undergraduate slots are in hybrid classes, part in-person and part remote.

And 46% of undergraduate seats are remote learning only — just you and your computer.

The other 38.7% haven’t been determined yet — with the COVID-19 situation changing almost daily.

But, a big increase in face-to-face classes is unlikely. In fact, Casazza said, fewer students than expected want such instruction, because “the public health situation is changing,” and changing for the worse. While COVID-19 cases counts are low in Evanston, they are skyrocketing in many other parts of the nation.

The classes which are being held in person are being done so because some instruction has to be done that way for it to work, such as hands-on experience with technology. But even most laboratory classes will either be remote or hybrid. While doing lab work without having a lab may seem illogical, Casazza said it can work, if the professors find a way. “It’s just the faculty getting creative,” Cassazza added, “but the learning outcomes are the same.”

The students who do come to Evanston will find a very different experience than college of old. Everyone, students and faculty, will have to complete a daily symptom survey before stepping on campus. Masks will be required, along with social distancing. A classroom which used to have 25 desks will now have only nine, to keep them far enough apart.

The normal ten minutes to get from one class to another will be increased to twenty, to allow more time for cleaning, using the restroom and taking the proper one-way walkway instead of rushing in and out of a crowd.

Classrooms will be cleaned every night, and sanitizer will be on hand, but Mark Francis, associate provost for operations and facilities, said students should “consider every surface as if it’s the grocery store. Unless I personally cleaned it, assume it’s dirty.” In other words, wash your hands and use sanitizer a lot.

Northwestern actually has more graduate students (approximately 13,000) than undergraduates (8,500). Only 1.3 per cent of grad student slots are in face to face classes as of now. Hybrid (part in person, part remote) varies from program to program. The Medill School of Journalism is at 66 per cent of seats, but the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences is only at 9 per cent. The majority of graduate classes will be all or mostly remote learning, but as with undergraduate, the numbers can change between now and the first day of classes on Sept. 16.

Today’s webinar was designed to help students make a decision … come to Northwestern in person or spend most, or perhaps all of your class time on a computer.

With undergraduate tuition, fees, and room and board at more than $76,000 per year, it’s an important call. Registrar Casazza said it comes down to “measuring my own comfort with risk. None of us knows what the public health situation will be,” she added. “It’s making the best decision with imperfect information.”

Casazza said Northwestern will provide the best answers it can. There will be more webinars, including one for international students, and one with more information about coronavirus testing and contact tracing.

Casazza emphasized that the number one priority is health and safety. And to students who may be wondering if classes on a computer is worth the money and the work, she put it this way: “We know you came to Northwestern because you expected a rigorous academic experience. We don’t expect this to change that.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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