COLUMBIA — The University of South Carolina plans to hold its postponed spring commencement just before students are scheduled to return for the fall semester.
The May commencement, pushed back because of the coronavirus outbreak, is slated for Aug. 7-8, if possible, USC President Bob Caslen told students attending online classes on Wednesday. The university will make arrangements to hold a virtual commencement for people who can't attend in person, he said.
Other S.C. colleges also postponed commencement and, like USC, pushed all in-person spring semester classes online.
USC asked students to stay away from campus to stem a rise in COVID-19 cases. The state's largest university said 30 percent of the 32,000 students on the Columbia campus would have been infected within two weeks if they all were allowed to return after spring break this month.
USC did allow 382 students to return to dorms; five have tested positive for the coronavirus, Caslen said. USC said 23 remain in quarantine as a result of initial positive tests.
The health of three coronavirus-infected students improved enough for them to leave campus, Caslen said. The other two remain in isolation and are expected to get well soon.
Another 24 students living off campus tested positive, he said. Two professors also tested positive, USC said.
Caslen said he did not know if USC would make summer semester classes online only.
USC would use the experience from the pandemic to examine changing how the school offers classes, he said. Caslen, a retired West Point superintendent and three-star Army general, has been a proponent of teaching more classes online.
He said USC will need to assess the virus' impact on enrollment when students return in late August, as well as "the long-term demographics of a four-year residential bachelor model for higher education and whether or not that model will shift in some direction," he said. "In every crisis, there is an opportunity."
Caslen told students he can't wait for them to return.
"We have been busy, but we're lonely because we miss you all," he said. "And when you do come back, it's going to be a big celebration."