Students walk through a quiet Quarry Plaza at UC Santa Cruz in March. (Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Get ready to see (most) Slugs back in Santa Cruz this fall.

Details are emerging about how a predominantly in-person fall quarter will look at UC Santa Cruz, as optimism grows that vaccine availability will allow for a return to something not quite — but much closer to — normal.

While plans remain tentative, campus leaders are looking at reopening on-campus housing to nearly full capacity and holding the majority of courses in person.

“It’s wonderful what a few beautiful days can do for the human spirit,” UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive wrote in a campus message last week. “Good news nationally and locally on the COVID front — with vaccines getting into more and more arms and restrictions easing — is also brightening my spirits.”

Fall planning could quickly change due to an unexpected resurgence in COVID-19 as well as any future guidance from the state government or UC system. “It’s hard right now to take anything for granted,” UCSC Provost Lori Kletzer told Lookout.

Here’s what else you should know:

Most classes to be held in person

Up to three-quarters of courses may be held in person in the fall, according to a goal announced in a March 23 update.

Courses smaller than 150 students can now plan to use 100% capacity space. Courses with an enrollment of more than 150, however, will continue to be held remotely. Planning earlier this year had set that threshold lower, capping in-person classes to `100 students. Smaller courses may still be held remotely on request from departments and colleges, or to accommodate those with disabilities.

But even as most students return to classrooms and lecture halls, UCSC is working to ensure those opting to stay remote will be able to make progress toward their degrees.

“We know that for health reasons, not all faculty, staff and students will immediately be able to come back onto campus — to be on site,” said Kletzer. “So, particularly for the curriculum, we are absolutely therefore committed to ensuring that students who will engage with us remotely have paths to make progress toward degrees.”

All courses may be held remotely for the first two days of the fall quarter, Sept. 23–24, to provide more of a buffer to allow COVID-19 testing for students and instructor.

The fall course schedule, including information on whether courses will be held in person or remote, is slated to be released May 10.

“The Squiggle” sculpture at UCSC’s Porter College. (Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Almost all on-campus housing may reopen

UCSC is closely looking at reopening almost all of its on-campus housing for the fall quarter — nearly 90% of capacity, according to Sarah Latham, UCSC’s vice chancellor of business and administrative services.

Total housing capacity is at about 9,300 beds. This spring, only about 1,500 of those beds are occupied, according to UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason.

About 5,000 students are believed to be living in the surrounding community, suggesting the majority of UCSC’s more than 19,000 students are continuing to study from afar.

Vaccination and testing rules still unclear

One looming question is whether students living or studying on campus will have to have received COVID-19 vaccinations.

Some kind of testing policy is expected to continue into the fall, though likely not at the current cadence, according Sarah Latham, UCSC’s vice chancellor of business and administrative services. But it’s not yet clear whether students will be required to receive vaccines, or even have to opt out, to participate in person. If such a policy is developed, Latham said it would be at the system level and apply to all UC campuses.

The widespread availability of vaccines to all students is one important factor in talks about any kind of requirement, Latham said.

“It’s hard to require something where people haven’t had the opportunity [to be vaccinated],” she said. “But there have been different thoughts about that, and different discussions at the system level about the potential for, ‘How do we handle students?’”


The UC Office of the President had announced in January that plans were in the works for a “primarily” in-person fall across its campuses. But details on how that will look at each campus are still emerging.

In the Cal State University system, Chancellor Joseph Castro said in February he expects at least half of all classes will be in person in the fall.

Some private universities are moving even more quickly: Stanford announced this week that all students should expect to be learning in person.

Meanwhile, Cabrillo College is continuing to plan for a mostly remote fall, though some services will likely expand and more than 200 “difficult to convert courses” are expected to continue to be offered in person.

That appears broadly consistent with the status of community colleges across California, where the systemwide chancellor last month said he expected many courses to continue to be offered remotely in the fall.

In K-12 education, every school district in Santa Cruz County has returned at least some of its grades to classrooms under a hybrid model as of this week, joining a wave of partial re-openings across the state. And school officials are now confident in a full return to classrooms in the fall across all local districts.

Nick Ibarra covers higher education for Lookout Santa Cruz, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for Lookout Santa Cruz, in partnership with Open Campus.