According to data collected by the Office of the Registrar, over the past six years more Swarthmore students have been taking classes within the Bi-Co than at University of Pennsylvania.
From the fall semester of 2010 to the spring semester of 2015, an average of 42 students took classes within the Bi-Co at Bryn Mawr and Haverford per semester, whereas only an average of 32.3 took classes at UPenn. In this five year period, a total of 420 students took classes in the Tri-Co and 340 took them at Penn.
Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges have always had close relationships, stemming from their similar Quaker roots and founding principles during the 19th century. Although Swarthmore was founded under a different branch of Quakerism with the intent of being co-educational, by the late 1940’s students were allowed to take classes at each school with no extra charge. To further allow students to take advantage of this consortium the colleges agreed in 1986 to create a combined library catalogue. The result of this effort is Tripod, the online catalogue students are familiar with today.
While many Swarthmore students have been taking classes at Bryn Mawr and Haverford, the number of students from the Bi-Co taking classes at Swarthmore is far greater.
During the same period of fall 2010 to spring 2015, the amount of Bryn Mawr and Haverford students who took classes at Swarthmore was 1,207, nearly triple the amount that Swarthmore had in the Tri-Co in the same time period.
However, it is clear that these diverse numbers can be explained by differences in curriculum between the three schools. For example, Bryn Mawr offers Italian while Swarthmore does not, Swarthmore has a larger engineering program than the rest of the Tri-Co, and the linguistics program is spread between all three schools.
Daniel Eisler ’16 explained over e-mail that natural science distribution requirements led him to take an environmental studies course at Bryn Mawr this semester. “I am a special major in education and environmental studies and realized I was short two natural science credits to graduate. I was told that the environmental studies capstone here at Swat would be largely social science focused, and that to fulfill my requirement I should take the course at Bryn Mawr.”
Eisler’s experience also illustrates a current problem with taking classes off-campus. Although a free shuttle travels between the Tri-Co campuses everyday, the scheduling of these shuttles sometimes becomes a problem.
“The course meets once a week on Fridays from 10:00 to 1:00, but with transport, breakfast, and lunch it is an all day commitment. I would not realistically be able to have any other course on Friday,” wrote Eisler.
Nonetheless, Tri-Co course offerings are still widely used by Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr students alike. Despite the larger variety of courses available at Penn and the unavailability of some disciplines in the Tri-Co, fewer Swarthmore students take classes at Penn than at the Bi-Co.
From fall 2010 to spring 2015, a total of 340 Swarthmore students took classes at Penn and only 2 Penn students took courses at Swarthmore. That is 80 fewer students than those who took classes at the Bi-Co.
Mainly logistics and transportation issues can explain the lower usage of the Quaker Consortium. The only ways to get to Penn from Swarthmore’s campus are to drive or take the SEPTA line. However, during the weekdays SEPTA times very rarely correspond with Swarthmore or Penn class schedules.
Cesar Cruz Benítez ’17 described over e-mail his experiences taking Penn courses, “I took American Sign Language II in the spring of 2015 and ASL III in the fall of 2015. Unfortunately, Swarthmore does not offer an American Sign Language course anymore and does not intend to for the foreseeable future, and they are not offered in the Tri-Co either so my only option to take ASL courses is to go to UPenn.”
“It was hard because I had to miss quite a lot,” Benítez explained. “By taking it at the time that I did I missed certain group events for the different clubs that I am a part of, the sophomore planning department meetings for the departments that constitute my special major, among other lectures and campus events.”
While funding is available to subsidize the cost of transportation to Penn from the Office of the Registrar, it does not typically cover all of a student’s expenses.
“The fact of the matter remains that in order to get reimbursed one needs to have the money to shell out to pay for transportation to and from UPenn until at least halfway through the semester, the first time that reimbursements are processed, which may not be something that everyone at this school can afford to do,” wrote Benítez.
Another issue which the compensation system presents is that the compensation is capped at different amounts depending on how many times a week the class meets, but this cap sometimes prevents students from receiving complete compensation.
“The amount that one gets reimbursed for a class that meets twice a week is capped at $300, which is not enough to cover the projected amount of class days one is expected to have,” reported Benítez. “Granted UPenn is more likely to cancel classes, but it is not something that a student should depend on.”
Though there are obstacles, many students still find the Consortium to be a valuable resource, expanding course offerings beyond those available at the college.