Key Takeaways

  • All universities included in this article have moved to remote learning for the remainder of the school year.

  • While many schools across the country have moved to enforce mandatory pass/no pass or equivalent grading systems for the remainder of the school year, the majority of University of California schools so far have not followed suit.

  • Universities tended to shift toward remote learning within a week after their first university-affiliated infection. Schools without a university-affiliated infection moved online by mid-March.

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Within the past month, the spread of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. has forced college campuses around the country to shut down regular operations. As many schools implemented guidelines such as social distancing as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they were also forced to make decisions regarding student housing and in-person classes. This article compares how different schools have responded to the virus, in accordance with increasing numbers of confirmed cases in their county, other schools, and time.

Use the drop-down menus to filter the timeline by college and event, and click on an event to view it’s source.

As schools like Harvard, Columbia and Stanford make headlines for enforcing a pass/no pass or equivalent grading scale for the remainder of the spring term, schools within the UC system have either relaxed their pass/no pass restrictions or not announced any change in grading policies at all. Schools that have decided to enforce pass/no pass grading systems argue that with the unprecedented and rapid shift to online learning, enforced pass/no pass grading helps to maintain equitability in education. Not every student has reliable internet access off-campus, many may be picking up increased responsibilities at home amid soaring layoffs and students living in different time zones are attempting to attend classes at odd hours of the day and night. These factors, among others, may limit many students’ ability to perform well academically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lollipop chart below shows the changes made by each college in relation to the amount of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the area. Use the drop-down menu to select specific events, and see how many confirmed cases there were in the surrounding county at the time of the event.


Located in Seattle, one of the first sites of community spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., the University of Washington was the first school included in our analysis to move to remote education with an official announcement released on March 6. All schools included in our analysis moved to remote learning by March 19. The majority of schools experienced their first confirmed university-affiliated case of COVID-19 by mid-March as the virus continued to spread.

The bar chart race below shows the progression of cases in the surrounding county for each school through the past month. As time goes by, the number of COVID-19 cases in each university’s surrounding county increases. The actions taken by a given school appear as pop-ups on the day they occurred.

The exponential growth of cases is noticeable as the number of cases grow at a much faster rate starting toward the middle of March. More densely populated counties (such as Los Angeles County) also show a much higher growth in cases, but the first actions for those schools occurred on similar dates as less densely populated counties. This may be because of the fact that though the first case in each school is more dependent on the number of cases in the neighborhood, administrative decisions made by colleges are influenced by the actions of other institutions. Therefore, many of the actions taken by UC schools occurred within a narrow timeframe, despite the disparity in the virus threat severity in each individual county.

Social distancing guidelines have also upended university commencements planned for the end of the school year. Though UCLA’s announcement that all spring graduation ceremonies would take place online was met with a wave of backlash, it was the second UC school to do so, following UC Irvine. Additionally, UCLA announced on April 1 that summer session A would be offered remotely, extending the campus closure through Aug. 28. Delayed commencements, remote learning and unexpected moves have affected college students around the nation, not just those at UCLA. As students across the U.S. settle into a new, online learning routine, the uncertainty surrounding the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on education has yet to dissipate.