SUNY, CUNY to switch to online classes next week due to coronavirus

Joseph Spector, Jon Campbell

ALBANY - SUNY and CUNY campuses will shut down most in-person classes and move to online learning for the rest of the spring semester to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.

The move, which takes effect March 19, will have a significant effect on the largest public college system in the nation as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases grew to 212 across New York, including 121 in Westchester, mainly in the hotspot of New Rochelle.

Students will be encouraged to remain at home for the rest of the spring semester, though accommodations will be made for students who must remain on campus for laboratory classes or those who have no other place to stay, according to Cuomo's office.

The schools will have the next week to tailor a plan for their individual campuses, which will address exactly how the new policy will be implemented.

The limiting of in-person classes on the 64 SUNY campus system, including its community colleges, is aimed at lowering the density of people in any one area to reduce the spread of the virus, Cuomo said.

"This will be a way to reduce density, and that is a good thing," Cuomo said at a news conference at the state Capitol.

Cuomo said there will be some variation among campuses, particularly when it comes to when the "distance learning" order takes effect.

For example, most students in the public college system are heading out for spring break this week, so it's likely those students simply won't return to campus, he said.

SUNY has more than 415,000 full and part-time students.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the thousands of students who paid for a full semester of room and board will get a refund or credit.

Beth Garvey, Cuomo's special counsel, said it is still to be determined how many students will still be on campus after March 19. There still may be some students there, particularly those whose classes rely on laboratories or other facilities only found on campus, she said.

Most public colleges will likely forgo graduation ceremonies in May, according to Cuomo's office.

The governor said each college will be "releasing students to the best of their ability, starting March 19," but there maybe exceptions for students who have hardships and some classes that need to held on campus.

The campuses, he said, will be limited beginning March 19, but the dorms may stay open to address any specific issues of students.

"They are not evicting anyone," Cuomo said. "They are not closing the dorm and kicking you out."

The decision for the state university system comes as colleges across the country are moving toward distance learning to finish off the spring semester, including at Cornell University in Ithaca.

Joseph Spector is the New York state editor for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany