Preparing for the Fall 2020 Semester Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This FAQ page was developed from the information presented at the July 30, 2020, virtual meeting attended by members of the President’s Advisory Council (PAC), Academic and Administrative Assembly (AAA), and invited faculty, administrators, staff, and student leaders.

In response to frequently asked questions, this page provides answers pertaining to return to campus plans, academic program delivery, and financial policies. Due to the ongoing uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the information provided below will be updated as necessary in response to health and safety concerns, evolving public health guidelines, and other relevant factors.

Page last updated 9/7/2020

Return to Campus Plans

St. John’s has developed a comprehensive plan to transition from the old normal to the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 1, 2020, Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President, announced the formation of the Return to Campus Task Force (RCTF), co-chaired by Joseph E. Oliva, Esq. ’91CBA, ’94L, Vice President for Administration, Secretary, and General Counsel, and Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. On May 22, 2020, the co-chairs presented an update on their work to the PAC, AAA, and invited campus leaders. On July 15, 2020, RCTF released a comprehensive plan for campus reopening entitled, “Preparing for the Fall Semester.”

The work of the RCTF has been and continues to be guided by federal, state, and local guidelines and recommended best practices. The health and safety of students and employees continue to be the priority of the RCTF in developing our plans.

The “Johnnies Care Compact” calls upon every member of our community to commit to health and behavioral standards for the safety of everyone. We rely on each other for protection during this public health crisis, and ask everyone to do their part by (1) wearing a face covering in public spaces; (2) staying at least six feet away from other people; and (3) washing their hands frequently.

Although the New York State Department of Health did not mandate any across-the-board capacity reductions, they did recommend that colleges/universities modify or reconfigure spaces to ensure that a distance of at least six feet is maintained, unless safety or core activity in the classroom requires a shorter distance.

In addition to adhering to that guidance, St. John’s has taken the following additional steps:

  • Reconfigured all spaces to accommodate social distancing, with fewer chairs, floor markings, one-way traffic markers, and other signage.
  • Shared spaces will be closed.
  • Hot spots were identified and modified.
  • Plexiglass and other barriers were installed in high traffic areas.

The NYS Department of Health requires the following regarding face coverings:

Colleges/universities must obtain acceptable face coverings for their employees who directly interact with students or members of the public while at work at no cost. There is no requirement to provide for students. 

  • St. John’s acquired face coverings for all employees and students. We also have face coverings available for visitors.

Colleges/universities should advise employees, students, and visitors that they are required to wear face coverings in common areas or situations where social distancing may be difficult to maintain, such as when entering/existing classrooms. The NYS Department of Health only requires face coverings in classrooms that have not been reconfigured.

  • St. John’s is requiring face coverings be worn while walking around campus and inside buildings, including during classes, in common areas, and where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Please Note: There may be a reason why an individual is not wearing a face covering. Under applicable laws and regulations, face coverings are not required for community members with a protected disability that would be negatively affected by wearing a face covering, or, because of a sincerely held religious belief.

Our individual actions are fundamental to keeping our community safe and healthy. We will work together to implement the important health and safety measures included in the RCTF plan. 

If you observe an individual(s) not complying with protocols set forth in the plan, including social distancing or face covering protocols, we ask that you do the following:

  • If you are a faculty member, please remind students in your class of the importance of observing health and safety protocols. If it involves an individual(s) visiting your office/department, please remind them of the importance of observing health and safety protocols. Please avoid any arguments or confrontations.
  • Do not call the Department of Public Safety. Public Safety is not responsible for enforcement of face covering and social distancing protocols.
  • If the concern involves conduct by a student(s) in the classroom, please contact the dean’s office. If the concern involves conduct by a student(s) outside of the classroom, please contact the Division of Student Affairs. Further guidance is being developed and will be distributed to the academic units.
  • If the concern involves an employee(s), please advise your supervisor or contact Cynthia Fico Simpson, Director of Human Resources Services, at 718-990-6333; [email protected] and the Office of Human Resources will handle the appropriate follow-up.

The NYS Department of Health requires colleges/universities to undertake wellness screening for employees reporting to work on campus daily. Students must be screened periodically. COVID-19 testing is not mandated.

At St. John’s, we are requiring all employees, students, and visitors to complete a COVID-19 screening questionnaire for each day they intend to be on campus. The COVID-19 symptom screening questionnaire is available on the St. John’s app and online.

Information provided as part of the questionnaire is not stored. If a student or employee is not cleared to be on campus, Student Health Services (for students) or Employee Benefits (for employees) will do necessary follow-up.

An individual who feels sick, has COVID-19 symptoms, or has been potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19 should not come to campus under any circumstances. 

Students and employees coming from locations requiring a 14-day quarantine must quarantine and provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result. We also will require testing of all symptomatic individuals, and anyone who has been in close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.

Members of our community who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to self-isolate.

  • Employees, students who commute, and resident students who live within a reasonable distance of campus will self-isolate at home.
  • Resident students who are unable to return home will stay in a residence hall restricted only to this purpose.
  • These students will be monitored by a COVID-19 Care Team, who will check in daily to monitor their health. We will also provide for their needs, e.g., food, medicine, and academic support.

We will coordinate with local health departments to support contact tracing initiatives. Confidentiality must be maintained under federal and state laws and regulations.

In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and NYS Department of Health guidelines, St. John’s has implemented increased cleaning and disinfection protocols.

  • Prior to the start of each day, all buildings are cleaned and disinfected.
  • Throughout the day, a “Disinfection Team” disinfects high-volume touch points such as doorknobs, levers, handrails, railings, restrooms, and elevator buttons.
  • Multiple hand sanitizer stations have been added throughout the campus.
  • Sanitizing wipes are available for use in classrooms, large shared spaces, cafeterias, and in departments and offices.
  • HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems have gone through a maintenance cycle and all filters are being upgraded.

We will closely monitor New York State’s Monitoring Dashboard, as well as our infection rates and quarantine capacity.

If a shutdown of on-campus activities becomes necessary, we will work with students, faculty, administrators, and staff to quickly wind down classes and shift back to a fully online learning environment. We will work with resident students to arrange for their safe departure from campus, including working with students who may not be able to depart campus quickly due to travel restrictions.

We know that we must be adaptive to change. We will need your flexibility to respond quickly if changes in the local health metrics require adjustments.

Academic Programming for the Fall 2020 Semester

Deans received the Fall 2020 course schedule on May 15 and were asked to work with chairs and faculty to identify classes based on four categories:

  1. Classes that must be fully taught in person (i.e., laboratory classes, art studios, and classes in specialized learning environments)
  2. Classes that can easily transition to fully online modality
  3. Classes with low enrollment that can be closed now since the low number of students enrolled meets classroom social distancing guidelines so it can be fully taught in person
  4. Classes where students can easily rotate (two- or three-week rotation, depending on class size and room availability). 

Once the class categorization was completed by each academic department, the Office of the Registrar programmed classes that were designated as fully online; followed by classes that must be fully in person in classrooms, laboratories, studios, and specialized learning environments; along with classes with low enrollment that meet classroom social distancing guidelines; and large classes that may need to rotate in a hybrid in-person/online format. Some changes to the class schedule continue to be implemented to provide flexibility for students.

Each classroom has been reconfigured following social distancing guidelines to minimize density. Depending on the number of students enrolled in a class and classroom space available, class sections have been programmed as fully in person for the entire fall semester, or as two- and three-week rotating hybrid classes. Two-week rotating hybrid classes allow students to rotate every other week between in-person and online modality, while three-week rotating hybrid classes allow students to rotate every three weeks—in person (one week) and online (two weeks).

For the Fall 2020 semester, 40% of classes have an in-person, on-campus experience. In addition, 78% of students will have at least one in-person, on-campus experience in the classroom.

The University’s Academic Calendar Committee, comprised of faculty, administrators, and students, recommended that fall classes begin on August 24 instead of September 2.

The main reason for the calendar adjustment is to prioritize the health and safety of our students, faculty, administrators, and staff by eliminating the need for students to return to campus after the Thanksgiving holiday. View the academic calendar online.

Budget, Tuition, and Financial Aid

St. John’s received a total of $12.2 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding and, as required by the Act, the funds were apportioned equally between a student portion ($6.1 million) and a University portion ($6.1 million).

Of the $6.1 million allocated to the student portion, 100% was distributed to students who were enrolled during the Spring 2020 semester. The average award to students was $1,000. For a detailed breakdown of how the $6.1 million student portion was dispersed, please visit St. John’s University Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund Reporting: Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students.

The entire amount ($6.1M) allocated to the University portion was used to provide refunds to students for spring semester room, board, and Study Abroad program fees due to the COVID-19 disruption of campus operations. Nearly $15 million of refunds were issued or credited to students’ accounts, with the balance coming from University resources.

A donor-supported Basic Needs Fund was created to provide immediate relief to students for personal expenses (including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students and students who did not file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)). The University dispersed more than $316,000 in funds to 637 undergraduate, graduate, and School of Law students.

In addition, a special COVID-19 Emergency Grant, funded by both the University and salary reductions taken by senior administrators and athletic coaches, was created to provide tuition assistance to any student (undergraduate and graduate) affected by COVID-19. To date, the fund has dispersed more than $4.7 million in assistance to students.

As a Catholic and Vincentian institution, St. John’s is committed to providing an excellent education for all, especially for those most in need. During the past five years, St. John’s has taken a measured and fiscally responsible approach to changes in tuition by either freezing or minimizing tuition increases. At the same time, the University has provided substantial amounts of financial aid to students, which enables us to make a private college education affordable and accessible.

St. John’s has a six-year average annual tuition increase of 2.2%. During that same time period, the national average annual tuition increase has been 3.5%.

Since academic year 2015–16, the University’s tuition increase has averaged 2.2% annually; during the same period, the average financial aid award has increased by 6.5% annually. Almost the entire amount of tuition increases since academic year 2015–16 has been returned to students in the form of financial aid.

Prior to the start of President Gempesaw’s tenure at St. John’s in 2014, annual tuition increases averaged 7.6% annually between 1990 and 2014. Dr. Gempesaw believed that the University needed to freeze tuition at that time due to the above average annual tuition increases implemented in the previous decades. This began a long-term plan to moderate annual tuition increases and provide greater access and affordability by allocating additional institutional aid to ensure student success. Last year, St. John’s provided more than $274 million in institutional financial aid.

Up until academic year 2014–15, the University offered students a fixed rate tuition plan. Students who elected to participate in the plan paid in their first year more than students in the traditional plan paid. The higher upfront tuition rate was based on expected tuition increases over the next four years. Thereafter, the tuition for students participating in the fixed rate plan would remain the same for the remaining three years of their enrollment at the University.  

However, over the 19 years that the University offered the program, the demand for the program diminished greatly, with only 4% to 8% of the student population participating in the later years, until St. John’s had to cease offering the plan in academic year 2015–16 when the University implemented a tuition freeze for that year.  The tuition freeze caused the University to provide partial tuition refunds to students on the fixed rate plan because these students were now paying more than other students who were in the traditional (i.e., nonfixed rate) plan.

At a tuition-dependent school like St. John’s, a one-time tuition freeze provides relief to all students, regardless of their individual financial circumstances or ability to pay, whereas a moderate tuition increase, combined with a targeted allocation of financial aid to students most in need, allows the University to (a) meet the needs of students in a more strategic manner, (b) enhance the teaching and learning environment, and (c) ensure student success over the long-term.

Since Academic Year 2015–16, the increase in the average institutional aid per students has exceeded tuition and fee increases. Approximately 93% of the increase in total tuition and fee revenues, which was generated in part by enrollment increases, was given back to students in the form of financial aid. This year, we have also allocated significant financial resources to support a safe return to campus in the fall and continue to provide a quality educational experience for students. In addition, as stated in the response to Question #15, the University has created a special COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund for students impacted by the pandemic.

Between Academic Years 2015–16 and 2019–20, the University has invested more than $200 million in teaching and learning enhancements. Of that, $13 million (or 7%), was funded by the cumulative increase in net tuition revenue, which was driven entirely by enrollment growth rather than by tuition increases.

More than $190 million (or 93%) was funded primarily through operating expense reductions and nontuition revenues, including donor gifts for learning spaces such as the Collins Business Analytics Lab and Evanson Career Services Center (both in The Peter J. Tobin College of Business), and Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab (in The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies).

Since 2014, the University reduced administrative headcount by 356 positions, or nearly 30%, to help fund these investments.

Since 2016, the University invested in hiring new faculty, increasing faculty headcount by 47 positions, or nearly 8%. We believe it is critical to student success to have talented and dedicated faculty at St. John’s. This investment in new faculty is important to support our strategic priority to recruit and retain faculty from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

Since Academic Year 2014–15, the University has spent $50 million to upgrade more than 90% of classrooms with cutting-edge technologies and create or renovate specialized learning environments such as the Technology Commons, Advanced Graphics Lab, Virtual Reality Lab, Sullivan Hall computer classrooms, and specialized lab spaces for the Collins College of Professional Studies.

The technology fee is necessary to cover the increasing costs of supporting and upgrading academic technologies that provide students with a competitive edge in a technology-advanced workplace. Even with the addition of a technology fee, St. John’s tuition and fees are still among the most affordable among schools in the New York metropolitan region.

More than 72% of the University’s expenditure budget, including financial aid, is allocated to instructional, academic, and student support.

Student success is the top strategic priority at St. John’s, and the University’s budget decisions reflect this commitment. Our sustained increases in first-year retention rate; record-setting, four-year graduation rate; and high career placement rate illustrate that St. John’s budget decisions are positively affecting these key student success metrics.

To provide students with the St. John’s campus experience while simultaneously attempting to keep everyone safe, we will offer a combination of on-campus, in-person courses; courses in a hybrid format; and online classes. To reduce density in classrooms, hybrid classes will give students the option to attend some of their classes on campus and at other times attend classes remotely, which can be synchronous or asynchronous. Students who are registered for in person or hybrid classes who prefer to take only online classes will be accommodated. For online classes, our faculty have been trained during the summer to ensure that the quality of instruction is aligned with the St. John’s educational experience and that student-faculty interactions are integrated into the learning experience.

Classes will feature the same St. John’s faculty, instructional content, and curriculum—regardless of the program delivery. Students continue to have access to a wide range of academic and support services.  We continue to deliver quality education in person, in a hybrid setting, and online. St. John’s already provides significant institutional aid to students to promote access and affordability, and does not have plans to provide additional institutional aid for online and hybrid classes.