University of Iowa nixes in-person graduation, but commits to more in-person classes next fall

'The goal is to hold as many face-to-face courses as possible'

A sign in support of University of Iowa health care workers is seen in front of the Old Capitol Museum in Iowa City on F
A sign in support of University of Iowa health care workers is seen in front of the Old Capitol Museum in Iowa City on Friday, April 3, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — When University of Iowa administrators last April announced the unprecedented cancellation of a traditional spring commencement ceremony, they offered several alternatives — including participating in graduation virtually or returning for an in-person ceremony in fall 2020 or spring 2021.

But — with COVID-19 still killing Iowans daily — the chance for face-to-face celebration this winter came and went. And UI officials this week again pulled plans for a spring in-person graduation — although they’re airing new hope for a more normal “on-campus, residential experience in fall 2021.”

Where courses of 50 or more students this academic year were moved online, along with those taught by instructors seeking special exceptions — making three-quarters of UI undergraduate instruction virtual — officials Friday announced most will be back in person next fall.

“Courses enrolling fewer than 150 students will be in person,” according to a campus message, which comes as the campus is reporting enrollment losses due to COVID both in the fall and spring semesters.

“The goal is to hold as many face-to-face courses as possible while maintaining flexibility.”

UI will continue taking measures to curtail the risk of COVID next fall by, among other things, only holding classes in buildings meeting “CDC COVID-19 ventilation recommendations for risk reduction.”

“This means some lecture sections with more than 150 students may be moved online, while discussion and lab sections meet in person,” according to the Friday message that stressed, “Instructors who wish to hold a large lecture in person or move a smaller course online must submit a request and rationale by February 8, 2021.”


Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa haven’t announced plans for fall 2021. And while UNI, like UI, will hold its spring commencement virtually, Iowa State won’t make its decision until March 1, officials said.

About the UI call this week to skip an in-person ceremony this spring, officials said in a campus message, “We know how much these ceremonies mean to our students and their families.

“While May seems a long way off, we feel it is the right decision to make now to maintain the health and safety of the entire campus community.”

All three of the regent universities held spring and fall 2020 commencement virtually.

An ISU commencement communication reported its “Commencement Advisory Committee is evaluating multiple options for commencement — with a focus on safety for students, faculty, staff and guests — that appropriately honor graduating students’ achievements.”

Although UI and UNI already know they aren’t returning to an in-person ceremony this spring — as had been expected — they’re continuing efforts to recreate the experience in the virtual realm. UI has committed to a livestream for its chain of ceremonies.

“The university is committed to honoring our graduates and celebrating their achievements in a way that allows for participation from friends and family virtually,” according to a UI message recognizing some of last spring’s graduates hoped to “walk” this May.

“We acknowledge the disappointment of our graduates who were unable to attend an in-person commencement ceremony in spring or fall 2020 due to the pandemic and planned to participate in May 2021,” UI officials noted. “The university will reach out to these graduates regarding opportunities to be recognized at future in-person programs to celebrate their accomplishments.”


Last spring, 5,473 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students graduated from UI; 5,094 graduated from Iowa State.

After the fall 2020 term, UI conferred more than 2,100 degrees; Iowa State likewise graduated 2,171 students.

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