Published: May 26, 2020

A robust set of COVID-19 mitigation measures, no tuition increase for all undergraduate students and a highly adaptable academic framework highlight the plan to welcome students back to campus in the fall, CU Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano announced on Tuesday. 

DiStefano announced CU Boulder’s Road Map to Fall 2020 in a letter to all students, faculty and staff after campus leadership’s approval of a final report from the Academic Year 2020–21 Planning Team. 

"This is a moment in our history in which our imperatives to lead, innovate and impact humanity are coming together for the future of our university," DiStefano wrote in his letter. "Our vision to be a leader in the humanitarian, social and technological challenges of the 21st century is embodied by all of us right now. Our success is dependent on all of us working together. 
"Our challenge as a campus community is to ensure our mission endures. Our mission to serve the public good is more vital now than ever."

University leaders say the plan, which has classes beginning as scheduled on Aug. 24 and finishing remotely after Thanksgiving break, prioritizes the health and safety considerations that will be required to minimize risk and enable an on-campus academic model that accommodates both in-person and remote learning.  

Since March 16, the university has moved to remote classes and operations and canceled events through July 31. A limited number of researchers and critical support staff began returning to campus Tuesday, May 26, to conduct research that can’t be done remotely. 

The Road Map to Fall 2020 focuses on three main areas: a COVID-19-ready campus experience, academic instruction and resource alignment. The plan was developed in consultation with CU Boulder faculty and community epidemiology and public health experts, and it was informed by more than 1,500 points of input gathered through engagement with students, faculty, staff, parents, community members and others. 

Acknowledging that there will be some risk involved in any model the campus adopts, CU Boulder’s plan aims to mitigate the COVID-19 risks for the community and provide flexibility for the university’s most vulnerable, at-risk populations by scaling testing, infection notification and containment capacity to meet public health guidelines; establishing clear physical distancing through limiting population density on campus; and requiring everyone on campus to complete pre-arrival COVID-19 trainings and commit to health and safety protocols throughout the semester.

A COVID-19-ready campus experience

The COVID-19-ready campus experience section of the plan provides the ability to adapt operations based on changing local conditions and adherence to state, county and city guidance. To do so, it establishes four modes of campus operation that build upon the return to research pilot beginning this summer: remote (the current campus state), limited (limited physical presence on campus), expanded (fall 2020 in-person operations) and full (return to normal operations).

These modes will enable the university to ensure health and safety by notifying the campus community of any changes to operating status based on local COVID-19 conditions throughout the semester. 

Among the many mitigation measures outlined in CU Boulder’s plan are:

  • On-campus capability for COVID-19 testing of students, faculty and staff, both to continuously monitor for potential spread and to test individuals with symptoms.  
  • Campus-based rapid response teams for tracking, notification and isolation of infected individuals.
  • Mandatory safety training for on-campus faculty and staff–as well as all students–that includes instruction on physical distancing, wearing of face coverings, hand hygiene and sanitation, and following public health orders on events and public gatherings.
  • A robust public health awareness and outreach program in collaboration with the Boulder Police Department, Boulder County Public Health and student leadership.
  • Updated conduct code and related policies to include compliance with COVID-19 public health requirements.
  • Reduce each person’s potential for infectious contacts by at least 55 percent by:
    • Requiring masks for all students and employees. 
    • Reducing density of people from normal operations.
    • Facilitating small cohorts of students.
    • Implementing building control measures, such as physical distancing in all campus classrooms and learning spaces.
    • Implementing an increase in sanitization measures, including ensuring surface hygiene.
    • Reserving residence hall space for quarantining and isolation.
  • Continued remote work arrangements for many employees.
  • Required risk mitigation plans for each unit seeking approval for personnel to return to campus.
  • Return-to-work protocols.

Academic instruction

The academic instruction section of the plan aims for a high-quality academic experience for both undergraduate and graduate students. The plan supports the development of flexible options for an in-person academic experience while meeting the needs of students and faculty whose health or personal circumstances require them to teach and learn remotely. It also provides for  environmental safety in classrooms and on campus through physical distancing, class schedule adjustments and other administrative controls. 

Key elements of the academic instruction section include:

  • A regular 16-week semester term beginning on Aug. 24, with the option for faculty to offer some courses, as appropriate, in 8-week sessions during the overall semester.  
  • In-person classes through Wednesday, Nov. 25, with remote teaching after Thanksgiving to allow students to travel home and remain there until the spring semester begins (with exceptions available based on specific needs to remain on campus).
  • Implementing a first-year academic experience for all first-year students, including housing assignments and enrolling first-year students in classes with small cohort groups.
  • Offering courses that provide classes in a variety of in-person, distance and hybrid formats.
  • Reducing the density of students in classrooms through a suite of methods that includes splitting single classes into multiple sessions and utilizing larger spaces.
  • Extending class scheduling to use the entire day, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., to decrease student density on campus.
  • Several avenues for supporting the success of returning students, graduate students and instruction.

Resource alignment 

The resource alignment section of the plan supports the required investments in health and safety protocols, technology, faculty and staff support, and student success and access. These include:

  • Investment in testing, masks, trainings, physical distancing supplies and public health awareness.
  • Investment in instructional technology to support student and teaching success.
  • Zero tuition increase (approved by the Board of Regents on May 19). 
  • Waiving the Residential Academic Program fees for all first-year students in residence halls.
  • Employee support that addresses return-to-work guidance, childcare needs and accommodations for vulnerable populations.

Implementing the plan

The Road Map to Fall 2020 establishes implementation teams for each of the three major sections of the plan, and those teams are already meeting to engage campus units in next steps. The flexibility built into the plan also enables the added benefit of preparing the campus for a variety of COVID-19 scenarios that could arise. The Road Map emphasizes that the implementation process will be iterative, and that the campus will continue to update and improve the model based on feedback received from the campus community.

“It is our charge as the University of Colorado Boulder to accept the call to become the most COVID-19 ready campus we can be–while building in the safety and agility necessary to minimize the risks to our community members and adapt rapidly to the uncertain dynamics we will continue to face,” the planning team wrote in its report.