Update on the Fall Semester

Aug 14 2020

Dear Columbia Engineering Undergraduates,

I am writing to follow up on President Lee Bollinger’s communication of today. We had been hopeful and excited about the possibility of welcoming a cohort of Engineering and College undergraduate students back to campus for the Fall term, particularly given the positive trajectory of the management of COVID-19 in New York. It is with great disappointment that I confirm we are no longer able to bring undergraduates to campus at this time, aside from the limited number of students approved for housing due to personal circumstances.

Over the recent months, we have had many encouraging signals: from the containment of the pandemic and the steady reopening of New York, to the incredible preparation of our campus infrastructure and implementation of public health protocols, to the safe and successful ramp-up of Columbia’s extensive research laboratories. However, the recent surge of the pandemic across the U.S. has been a troubling development. The expansion of states now in a high-risk category means that the majority of incoming undergraduate students would be subject to a 14-day quarantine—a challenging situation to accomplish with confidence and one which alters the very nature of the undergraduate experience at Columbia.

In light of these developments, we have decided to push back our undergraduate return-to-campus date until conditions are more favorable and we can ensure a more enriching, positive, and welcoming campus experience. We remain hopeful that we will be able to bring students to campus for the Spring, with priority given to our seniors for their final year.

Housing, Tuition and Financial Aid

Students who had been approved to arrive on campus this fall will have their housing contracts automatically withdrawn, with limited exceptions for those who were approved due to personal circumstances. Columbia Housing will be in direct contact with each of you in this situation shortly, to confirm your housing status.

Regarding undergraduate tuition for the coming year: We have continued to hear from our students and families regarding financial difficulties during this pandemic. We recognize how challenging this time is for many in our community. In response, Columbia will absorb the previously communicated 2% tuition increase, bringing the 2020-2021 undergraduate tuition rate flat to last year's value. In addition, for students on financial aid, Columbia Engineering will waive all student employment expectations for the fall semester, in recognition that students will not have the typical on- or off-campus work opportunities available. We will also be reviewing the financial implications for billing, financial aid packaging and more in the coming days and we will communicate separately with those updates.

Academics and Student Life

Your faculty and staff in Columbia Engineering and across Columbia had prepared tirelessly for your return—from the readiness of our buildings, classrooms and laboratories, to our vibrant, innovative and diverse curriculum and co-curricular offerings. We are deeply focused on our mission and our passion to educate and prepare our students for the future. Please be assured that the quality of your education and experience is top of mind. Prior to this decision, we had worked over the summer to prepare our offerings for every eventuality and to ensure all classes would be fully accessible in remote mode. Course registration is ongoing and students should be in touch with their advisers with any questions they may have.

We are also continuing and expanding the extensive programming we began over the summer to keep our community engaged and connected. You will hear more about opportunities—from new Design Challenges and Venture Competitions, hackathons, in-depth research experiences, and conversations with technology leaders—in the coming weeks and months.

We share in your excitement and eagerness to be at Columbia, as well as your disappointment that the Columbia Experience this fall will be remote—but together let’s make it remarkable. We are in an extraordinary time in history that has up-ended every aspect of our lives. It is a time for learning, for reflection, for innovation, and for community. Together we must seek, define, and create the opportunities. Take advantage of the three-term option to participate in a Design Challenge or a Research Experience, or enroll in an extra course or two to expand your scope of learning. You will have many options in front of you this year and we are here to help you make the most of them. Please check our Fall Updates page for the latest news and helpful links and direct questions to cc-seas@columbia.edu.

The Year Ahead

As we prepare to begin a new semester, I want to extend my appreciation for your continued patience. All of us at Columbia Engineering are confident that, given the circumstances, you can look forward to an exciting and intellectually invigorating semester and year, with the support of a world-class faculty, a dedicated administration, remarkable peers and the exceptional resources we have as one of the top research and education institutions in the world.

The Columbia community has a remarkable spirit and resilience. Fundamentally, we are defined by our commitment to intellectual excellence and bringing this excellence to impact humanity. During this unprecedented time, let us embrace the challenges and opportunities before us. I can promise that we will do all we can to make the year ahead a rewarding experience for all of our students.

Mary C. Boyce
Dean of Engineering
Morris A. and Alma Schapiro Professor