UCSB will offer remote instruction for undergraduate students for the fall quarter  after an increase in COVID-19 cases in Isla Vista.
UCSB will offer remote instruction for undergraduate students for the fall quarter after an increase in COVID-19 cases in Isla Vista. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

In perhaps a surprising move, UCSB has decided not to offer in-person classes for undergraduate students during the fall term because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chancellor Henry Yang made the annoucement late Friday.

“We have decided to offer nearly all undergraduate fall courses via remote instruction, and to limit our undergraduate student housing for fall quarter to only those students with special circumstances,” Yang said. “We recommend that all other undergraduate students stay home to receive remote instruction.”

The decision comes after an increase in COVID-19 cases in Isla Vista leading up to the planned start of the fall quarter. Since Aug. 1, cases in Isla Vista have nearly tripled, from 50 to 143, according to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

“Our plan for fall quarter has also been influenced by the spike in COVID-19 cases in the neighboring community of Isla Vista, where thousands of our students live,” Yang said. “This trend is likely to be exacerbated by bringing additional students to the area.”

The university wrote letters to undergraduate students and their families outlining its concerns about the increase in cases among students living in Isla Vista over the summer. More than 65 of the Isla Vista COVID-19 cases were UCSB students, Yang said.

“This number represents more than 60 percent of the COVID-19 cases in Isla Vista since March,” Yang said. “The relatively high population density of Isla Vista and the crowded conditions in which many students live are contributing factors to this recent surge. We urge all of our students who can to avoid being in Isla Vista for fall quarter.”

The university will offer full refunds to undergraduates for fall student housing contracts. Yang said the university will honor the contracts in winter quarter or whenever the decision is made to allow undergraduate students move in.

“We know our decision for fall may be a great disappointment for our students who had hoped to return to our beautiful campus next month, and especially for our incoming first-year and transfer students looking forward to an exciting beginning at UC Santa Barbara,” Yang said. “We share your disappointment, but we look forward to welcoming you at our virtual New Student Convocation on Sept. 29.”

Yang said he “acknowledged the weight” of the university’s decision for vulnerable students and their families, as well as international students.

He noted that officials developed a comprehensive COVID-19 mitigation plan that included mandatory and frequent testing, physical distancing protocols, reduced classroom occupancy and enhanced cleaning, in hopes of opening for the fall quarter. 

The campus currently is not allowed to hold any in-person events on campus, including fall sports.

Isla Vista property owner Ed St. George said the decision will have ramifications for the community. 

“It impacts my business in many ways,” he said. “Most importantly, undergrad students are an essential component of our student community as their experience and maturity contributes greatly to the overall successful formula the university likes to promote  Their absence will be felt.”

UCSB will hold a Student Affairs Summer Webinar at 5 p.m. Wednesday to share the latest details about fall planning and information on available campus resources.

Santa Barbara City College also plans to hold distance learning classes.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.