Survey: Awaiting Fall 2020 plan, students face housing uncertainty, safety concerns

Though the college remains eerily quiet regarding plans for Fall 2020, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic prevents any possibility of the semester unfolding as usual. The number of new COVID-19 cases has recently trended upward in the U.S., and public health experts warn that a second wave may come in the fall. With these circumstances in mind, many U.S. colleges and universities have released plans that dramatically alter the nature of the college experience in order to mitigate the risks of spreading the virus on their campuses during the Fall 2020 semester. 

In combination with the global pandemic and the shrinking of many economies worldwide, the abrupt shift to remote learning in March 2020 caused significant issues for many students, and those challenges will continue to affect them this fall. 

With any proposed plan, the College will have to both address safety concerns and conceive specific ways to prevent these difficulties.

Some students, denied on-campus housing by the College after remote learning began in the spring, spent months essentially homeless. Others found their mental health in jeopardy while they were trapped in toxic domestic situations and “relegated to child status” once again, as one respondent put it. Others searched for jobs to supplement lost income of family members; took care of siblings and elderly relatives; grieved for loved ones; crashed with friends; and struggled with learning and other disabilities to work online. 

Discussions in the 2019-2020 student Facebook group about how the College should handle the Fall 2020 semester have often centered reopening options that will best serve students who are immunocompromised or face housing insecurity at the College, rather than focusing on students’ preferences. These debates around equity, in some ways, echoed the fierce online debate around the Spring 2020 grading policy change to Universal Pass/Fail. Yet no clear answer of what reopening option is most ‘equitable’ has emerged.

In order to better understand the needs and circumstances of Swarthmore students vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Phoenix conducted an anonymous survey of 254 students of the College from June 22-25.

Our data was gathered via a survey distributed on Facebook. As a result, voluntary response bias may have affected the survey. Though it was publicly shareable to all Swarthmore students, it may exclude perspectives of non-Facebook users. Overall, the proportion of each demographic among survey participants resembles that of the entire Swarthmore population. A detailed  demographic breakdown of survey participants and potential biases of the survey are discussed in  the “Notes on Survey” section at the end of this piece. 

Among our overall findings, detailed in below sections:
  • One out of every five student respondents worry they cannot find housing if the College does not provide them with it, of which first generation and/or low-income and international students comprise a disproportionate amount.
  • Zoom classes may be emptier this fall if school remains online: in that case, 33% of students who responded will “likely or definitely” take a leave of absence for Fall 2020 if students were again told to stay home.
  • The plurality of student respondents (38%) prefer a ‘hybrid’ semester 
  • The second most popular option is an on-campus semester, favored by about a quarter of respondents (27%). Seventeen percent favor a delayed start to the year and 18% prefer a fully online semester with housing provided for some students.

Swarthmore students who responded to this survey described concerns that go far deeper than a desire for a return to normalcy.

The percentage of students considering a leave of absence and the distribution of Fall 2020 format preferences, however, varies significantly based on students’ financial privilege, international or domestic status, and other factors. In the body of this article, we will break down the student population by these demographics and look at students’ experiences and responses to gain a clearer picture of the pandemic’s effects. 

Sections: Learning from the spring | Students weigh the options| Housing concerns | Taking leave of absence

Learning from the spring

As shown in the below graphic, the majority of students struggled in their home environments during the Spring remote learning period. Forty-nine percent of students felt that distractions from home posed a substantial challenge according to a survey of 523 students conducted by the college’s Office of Institutional Research in mid-April. Additionally, non-academic responsibilities, such as taking care of siblings or running errands for elderly family members, strained a full two-thirds of students. 

Some also dealt with time zone issues, a lack of resources such as books, and unstable access to the internet. And almost the entire student body (92%) felt that stress posed an obstacle to their learning. 

After the College remained undecided while fellow Tri-College Consortium members Bryn Mawr and Haverford announced hybrid models for the fall semester, students decided to take matters into their own hands. Though administrators have not given any indication of what plan of action they will take, rumors in early June led students to begin circulating petitions through Facebook.  In mid-June, Murtaza Ukani ’22 and Ella Vetter ’22 , SGO president and vice-president respectively, created a petition independently of SGO. 

The petition, which received just under 300 signatures before being sent to President Valerie Smith on June 15, asked administrators to hold a hybrid Fall 2020 semester in order to minimize inequity among students. 

“Residential life and the campus atmosphere serve as an equalizing force for us as students. The abrupt fracturing of our spring semester is a testament to the same inequities we will be up against if Swarthmore announces the intent to be remote in the fall,” the authors wrote. 

Their petition stipulated that any plan to move on-campus must include safety measures, such as personal protective equipment for all community members, de-densified housing, and access to COVID-19 testing. These demands are similar to the social distancing measures that other colleges have announced  in tandem with a hybrid plan. The University of Pennsylvania, for example, will limit classes to 25 students, in addition to de-densifying campus housing and  requiring testing for all students. 

The petition to return to campus, however, received pushback from some who consider the on-campus option dangerous and inconsiderate to immunocompromised students. Matt Koucky ’22 published a counter-petition on June 22,  urging the college to keep classes online while providing housing to students who need it. According to the petition, a return to full campus residency entails multiple risks “[petition signers] are not willing to take,” such as COVID-19 infections and emergency evacuation should an outbreak occur on campus. The petition also claims that the on-campus option creates inequality for individuals with health conditions and international students who may not be able to return to the U.S. due to travel restrictions. 

Weighing the options for Fall 2020

Key data findings:
  • The plurality of students preferred a hybrid semester (38%), while the second most popular option was an on-campus semester (27%) followed by a remote semester (18%)
  • Incoming First-years are anxious to be on campus. They overwhelmingly prefer on-campus or hybrid options.
  • 25% of FGLI students  prefer a delayed semester, whereas only 13% of non-FGLI students do.
  • International students overwhelmingly prefer hybrid, are twice as likely to prefer “fully online” and are half as likely to prefer “Fully on-campus” in comparison to domestic students.

A breakdown of  preferred Fall 2020 formats by student demographic group is shown in the graphic below. In the following sections, you can read students’ accounts of their current circumstances and how those circumstances influence their hopes for the coming academic year.

Remote model

An on-campus semester could mean death for me and for anyone else who is at risk. Death.

Despite the challenges of adapting the Swarthmore experience to an online format, 18% of student respondents believe the College should again operate remotely, such as this international student.

“I’m really concerned about having to do remote classes, especially given the time difference which is over nine hours,” the student wrote. “That said, I am even more concerned about being asked to travel for 24 hours in the middle of a pandemic to be on a level playing field if [Swarthmore] decides on an in-person semester. This is all assuming that there are even flights out of my country, and that I would be allowed to enter the U.S.. I am in an extremely privileged position given that I have safe and stable housing right now and could afford to fly back if it’s asked of me. But I cannot pack up and fly to [Swarthmore] on a moment’s notice, and I cannot be flying back and forth if things get shut down again.” 

The same student feels limitations that international students face would make a fully remote semester more equitable than a hybrid semester.

“The dialogue (or rather, lack thereof) about how ‘those who can’t return can just be remote’ is really frustrating and dismissive. I’ll go along with whatever [Swarthmore] decides because at this point I just want to graduate out of here, but I think it would be irresponsible to open in-person and I am frustrated at the lack of empathy for people in different situations.”

Many other students supporting a remote semester focused on the risk of students spreading COVID-19. One student who self-identified as disabled and/or vulnerable feels strongly that the college should not allow all students to return to campus because of the health risks. 

“I’m sorry but Swatties are, when it comes down to it, like every other group of college students,” they wrote. “People won’t wear masks 100 percent of the time. People won’t wash their hands for 20 seconds 100 percent of the time. An on-campus semester could mean death for me and for anyone else who is at risk. Death. We are not immune just because we’re young. All it takes is one person.”

This student, and others, also mentioned the safety of Environmental Services staff, who will be in closer contact with students and their living spaces than many other community members. 

“In-person [school]… [risks] the livelihood of staff like EVS who are already overworked and not granted hazard pay,” the same student as above wrote.

On-campus and hybrid models

Many universities intend to pursue a variation on the idea of a ‘hybrid’ semester, whereby large lectures will be conducted online and recordings will be available for some in-person classes.  In most cases, after Thanksgiving, every class and every final exam will be held online in order to prevent students from bringing COVID-19 to campus after traveling home. Citing health and safety concerns, virtually all colleges will mandate facemasks and other social distancing measures. Various methods will also be implemented to de-densify campus spaces (e.g. housing, classrooms).

“Now that my mother is out of her previously unstable job, accruing enough money to make necessary [repairs], keep food on the table, pay bills, and pay school fees is no longer completely feasible. With my father as the only working parent, I have seen his hours get cut short at times,” the student wrote. “I’m worried that my presence at home is only adding to the economic burden, and I think it would be best for my family and I if I went back to campus.”

For many who support this option, the “equalizing force” of campus is a compelling reason to bring students back. Many respondents described difficult home situations.

Other students who feel the college should plan a hybrid or on-campus semester largely express concern about remaining isolated from fellow college students.  Some ground their opinions in their experiences with remote learning in the Spring semester, in which a large segment of the student population struggled with remote learning and living away from campus, as explained above.

One survey respondent hoping for an on-campus semester described how  the pandemic has strained his family’s finances.

“My family has been struggling economically even before COVID-19 impacts. Now that my mother is out of her previously unstable job, accruing enough money to make necessary [repairs], keep food on the table, pay bills, and pay school fees is no longer completely feasible. With my father as the only working parent, I have seen his hours get cut short at times,” the student wrote. “I’m worried that my presence at home is only adding to the economic burden, and I think it would be best for my family and I if I went back to campus.”

In addition, some students argue that much of the student Facebook group debate falsely assumes that online learning is the safest option for community health, when outbreaks near students’ homes, mental health issues, and other risks can occur during a remote semester.

I just want to note that I think the discussion around reopening is a little too binary, as in ‘it’s either online classes or people die,’” one student supporting the hybrid model wrote. “In reality, keeping us home comes with its share of health risks as well. Swatties are going to be taking in-person jobs in the fall, hanging out with friends from home, and of course [remaining] in contact with their families. If you think it’s delusional to say that students are gonna obey social distancing on campus (which is probably right), then it’s absolutely delusional to expect us to obey guidelines in our own communities, especially [when] restaurants, bars, etc. reopen… I fear that by spreading out a bunch of reckless and rule-defying college students, it might actually yield worse results than if we can keep them relatively contained on-campus, with precautions of course. This could be just my brain trying to justify what my heart wants, but it has to be a consideration.”

Similarly, an advocate of an on-campus Fall 2020 argued that living at school would be safer for her than living with high-risk family members in an area hard-hit by the virus.  

“Health-wise, I would feel completely safe being at school. In fact, I would probably feel a lot more safe being at school where the virus can be a lot more contained than at my home where everyone is on top of each other and my family has to go out into the real world often, meaning they are inevitably in contact with many people. I am from an area where COVID hit the hardest. Although my family and I quarantined and didn’t even leave our house to get groceries, getting COVID was unavoidable due to the dense population of my area. Most of my family has pre-existing health conditions so we were considered  ‘high risk,’ but none of [us] got very sick. I understand that not everybody is this lucky, but this experience did make me realize first hand that there is so much that we all still don’t know about the virus. Jumping to keep schools shut down while businesses, most other colleges, and even camps are reopening seems a little ridiculous to me.”

For others, mental health was a consideration alongside physical health. Even for students with stable home environments and a place to study, the move back home during Spring 2020 created a significant obstacle to their mental health and academic success, such as for this student who felt that not only housing but also on-campus resources were necessary. 

Culturally, a Swarthmore education is a 16-18 hours [per] day, six days [per] week job. There is no defined work life balance and I’m okay with that. I cannot, however, do that at home.

“My home life is stable, but the social isolation and relegation to child status again have caused significant damage to my mental health. Culturally, a Swarthmore education is a 16-18 hours [per] day, six days [per] week job. There is no defined work life balance and I’m okay with that. I cannot, however, do that at home. The requirements for time, focus, academic support, and social & stress relief aren’t available to me. I feel untethered at home. I cannot perform to the level that both my professors and I expect of me.”

Social interaction with friends was, naturally, another touchpoint among supporters of the hybrid and on-campus models. For one student with plans to eventually study abroad, this concern was so important that they have considered transferring to an institution that will hold on-campus classes.

“My majors (the combination of Physics and Math) don’t give me the option of taking a leave of absence in fall 2020 and still graduating in spring 2022—course offerings and pre-requisites don’t allow it. If we’re off-campus, I’ll cancel my plans to study abroad in spring 2021. Spending a semester and a half away from campus due to remote learning is already enough time away from my friends and campus. If we are online this fall, my fear is that we will continue to be online until…what? A vaccine? This feels like it could be a long time, possibly even until I graduate in spring 2022. I think (mostly vindictively) about transferring to an institution that I think has handled COVID better. I’m about to be a junior, but I could theoretically take a year off and still transfer…”

Survey results suggest that incoming first-year students overwhelmingly prefer some versions of on-campus experience (hybrid or fully on-campus), whereas students in other class years have a more mixed preference. Many in-coming freshmen express concern about adjusting to courses.

“I am really hoping to be able to have the fall semester on-campus. I come from a considerable small high school in a rural area, and being an incoming freshman, I think if the first semester is fully online I will struggle getting acclimated to the academic rigor of Swarthmore without the on-campus resources that the college offers,” one student wrote.

Another worries about a lack of social support. 

“As an incoming freshman, online classes would be devastating, both socially and academically. Without the ability to form in-person relationships, it would be especially hard to reach out to professors for help, join study groups, or even join clubs,” the student wrote. “I personally find it difficult to focus at home, and feel I will be affected negatively if I were to stay at home. There is no guaranteed study environment and no guarantee that I will be given the distance (or independence) that I require to succeed in college. I want to learn, fail, and succeed on my own merits, not with my parents watching my every move.”

Delayed start

The possibility that the College will postpone the semester until October or January, for example, appealed to 17% of student respondents. 

One student, whose experience living in New York City during the outbreak makes her cautious to return, felt that a delay is the best compromise.

“I’m not sure how social distancing will be safely practiced, especially in (dorm) living spaces. [The] only solution I can imagine is cutting dorm capacity, but that spurs a whole bunch of questions regarding equity, accessibility, etc,” they wrote. “I’m from NYC and the idea of returning to campus is frightening to me.”

Many FGLI students preferred the Delayed Start option while the option was particularly unpopular among International students. For one student who identifies as a low-income theater major, who prefers a delayed start to this semester along with 17% of survey respondents, the lack of in-person theater productions threatens to affect their chances at pursuing theater post-graduation.

“If Swarthmore doesn’t allow in-person rehearsals (of less than ten people), I will be put at an extreme disadvantage for graduation,” they said. “Most high-income theater students have access to arts funding or can afford to pursue the arts with little experience, but low-income art students really rely on the college’s resources to obtain a resume and level the playing field so to speak.”

Factors affecting students’ preferences
Key data findings:
  • More students rated social experiences as important than students who rated health concerns as important 
  • 78% of international students in our survey cited travel restrictions and timezone difference as a crucial factor informing their Fall 2020 preference.
  • Students receiving less than 50% are much more likely to say “Timely graduation, athletics, academic rigor” matters to them. 
  •  Financial constraints, housing security (twice as likely), and concerns for community members matter more to FGLI students.

Not all survey respondents gave written explanations of their preferences. All respondents, however,  ranked each of fourteen factors on a scale of one to five, with five meaning that the factor was extremely important to them. We counted the total number of respondents rating 4 or 5 for each factor based on the assumption that a 4 or 5 rating represents a crucial factor. As shown in the graphic below, this data reveal interesting findings about the respondents overall. For example, a higher number of students rated social experiences as important compared to the number of students who rated health concerns as important.

The factors’ importance also differed generally among different demographic groups. Students who are more financially privileged (little to less than 50% of their tuition is covered by financial aid) were much more likely to say timely graduation, athletics, academic rigor matter to them. In contrast, financial constraints, housing security, and concerns for community members matter more to FGLI students.

Housing concerns

Takeaways from this section:

  • Based on our sample of 254 respondents, 20% of students are not confident that they’ll be able to find stable housing this Fall. If this pattern applies to the entire student body, approximately 300 students feel uncertain about whether they can procure stable housing without housing guarantees from Swarthmore. 
  • FGLI and international students are much more likely to have housing concerns. 40% of FGLI students and 40% of international students aren’t confident that they will find a place to stay without Swarthmore guarantees, whereas only 11% of non-FGLI students and 18% of domestic students are concerned about housing.

Housing was a significant concern across the board. On some students’ minds is the possibility of a repeat of last semester, in which the college shifted abruptly to a remote-learning approach in late March at the onset of the U.S. outbreak, sending almost all students home, across the country and the world for some, to find provisional housing until the end of the semester. 

Though the College offered housing to students who needed it, many were denied. Eight percent of student respondents (excluding incoming first-years), of which FGLI students make up a disproportionate amount, said that they did not have stable, sufficient housing during the Spring 2020 semester. This percentage would translate to about 130 students lacking stable housing if extrapolated to the entire student population.

Moreover, if Swarthmore does not guarantee housing throughout the entire Fall 2020 semester, 20% of respondents said they were not confident whether they could procure stable, sufficient housing. This figure, extrapolated as above, translates to approximately 300 students experiencing housing uncertainty.

International, FGLI students anxious about housing security

FGLI and international students are much more likely to have housing concerns. Forty percent of FGLI students and 40% of international students aren’t confident that they will find a place to stay without Swarthmore guarantees, whereas only 11% of non-FGLI students and 18% of domestic students are concerned about housing.

 International students made up the majority of students who were granted permission to remain on campus during the remote learning period because travel bans made returning home more difficult and threatened to prevent them from returning to the U.S. for summer internships and the Fall semester. One student who could not return to their home in Kenya has been forced to stay with various connections in the U.S. 

“Unfortunately, Kenya has closed its borders, meaning that I can’t return home at the moment,” the student, who specified a preference for a hybrid fall 2020 model, wrote. “I’ve bounced around from house-to-house for the past three months, just staying with whomever I can. However, I don’t know how sustainable this is, and if Swarthmore isn’t on-campus or if it doesn’t provide housing options in the fall (and Kenya’s borders are still closed), that would put me in a very difficult situation.”

Unstable home environments 

I put on the housing form that I had mental health-related safety concerns with being at home, but received no assistance from Swat. In late March, I was hospitalized for suicidality, in part because I was losing access to C.A.P.S. since I live outside of Pennsylvania.

Some students wrote about the challenges of living in toxic home environments, being “relegated to child status,” or bouncing from house to house. Many urged the administration to accept more students onto the campus than they had in Spring 2020, regardless of whether classes were held online or in-person. Lack of access to C.A.P.S., which can only serve students in Pennsylvania because of licensing laws, was an issue for several students. (C.A.P.S could offer a handful of “consultation” sessions for some students, but not ongoing counseling sessions.) 

“When we were evacuated around spring break, I requested housing but was denied,” one student wrote. “I put on the housing form that I had mental health-related safety concerns with being at home, but received no assistance from Swat. In late March, I was hospitalized for suicidality, in part because I was losing access to C.A.P.S. since I live outside of Pennsylvania. My home is not a safe environment for me mental health-wise, and I need access to C.A.P.S., as my home insurance has really poor mental health coverage. I might be able to make something off-campus work financially if Swarthmore is online, but I definitely need C.A.P.S., and on-campus housing would be the best option for me (I struggle with an eating disorder at home and Sharples allows me to manage it much better than home or living off-campus with friends).”

Another student who did not return home due to a toxic home environment similarly implored administrators to provide housing, though they feel the school should operate remotely.

“Due to a hostile family environment, I have had extremely limited contact with my family since I started college.  When Swarthmore denied my request to stay on campus following the decision to hold classes online after fall break, I did not have an obvious place to go.  If the college doesn’t provide housing support for students in need, I will not be able to continue to rent a place to live, and will potentially have no other option than to return to my abusive household.  While I recognize that resuming classes in person for all students could put many at risk, many will also be at risk of homelessness or harm if the college doesn’t support students with unstable living situations.

If the college doesn’t provide housing support for students in need, I will not be able to continue to rent a place to live, and will potentially have no other option than to return to my abusive household.

Yet another student, who noted a preference for a delayed start to the 2020-2021 school year, said that they would likely take a semester off if classes were online, but would not take the semester off if housing were provided.

“Although I would seriously consider taking the semester off if [school is] entirely online, I probably wouldn’t if housing was made available for students who need it; by this I mean anyone who might not have access to good/any WiFi, people who go to CAPS regularly, etc. not just people that the school would consider to be in more severe(?) situations like they did at the end of last spring.”

Leaves of absence

Takeaways from this section:

  • Domestic students who are more financially privileged (less than 50% of tuition covered by financial aid) are more likely to consider taking a semester off  if Fall 2020 is fully online than less financially privileged counterparts.
  • International students are much less likely to take a leave of absence.
  • Likelihood to take the Fall 2020 semester off was mostly uniform among class years, with around 35% of students saying they would likely or definitely take a leave of absence if school were completely online. This excepts rising sophomores, who were 10% less likely to take leave

Once the College announces its plan for Fall 2020, regardless of the plan, many students will face a decision: Will they go forward with their education knowing that many of the resources and interactions that made it meaningful will be gone? Or will they leave, hoping that conditions will improve eventually?

We found that a dramatic decrease in enrollment may occur if the College chooses to operate remotely in Fall 2020: 33%, or one third, of respondents  will “likely or definitely” unenroll if the Fall 2020 semester is fully online. 

Some schools who will operate remotely have already safeguarded against potential financial fallout that would come from a large group of students unenrolling. Bowdoin, for example, changed their leave of absence policy in May to require students who take a voluntary leave to re-apply to the college. However,  Swarthmore has made no such change to policy. 

This means that the College, whose endowment has already shrunk as a result of an economic downturn, would likely risk another giant financial loss if they choose to hold a remote semester.

One student wrote that they will “almost definitely” take the Fall 2020 semester off if it were online because they do not have a place to work at home, their learning disabilities make remote learning even more difficult, and because lab experience and sports are a critical part of their educational experience.

“Being a student with learning disabilities, there are no amount of accommodations that would make up for being able to meet with professors in person and work with classmates,” they wrote. “As a STEM major, I do not see a way where I can get the full hands-on lab experience and quality instruction while doing online classes. At home, I do not have a workspace where I can quietly attend zoom classes or take exams, so I feel like I would not be able to thrive academically. Lastly, I would not have even considered attending Swarthmore if it wasn’t for my sport. Playing sports has been the main contributor to my academic success throughout my entire life. Although this may seem like a small thing to some people, I do not think I would be able to succeed at an academically rigorous school like Swarthmore without having the balance of being able to play my sport. My parents have sacrificed so much for me to have the opportunity to attend a school like Swarthmore, so I would feel incredibly guilty to have them financially contribute a huge amount of their savings for me to get an online, subpar education.” 

“If tuition isn’t discounted, online school isn’t worth putting myself in debt and my family in a burdensome financial position.”

Financial circumstances also affect each student’s decision whether to take a leave of absence. Domestic students who are more financially privileged (receive less financial aid) are more likely to consider taking a semester off  if Fall 2020 is fully online.

“My family isn’t really getting much financial aid, and it’s really a stretch for us to pay full tuition,” one student wrote. “We’re all in agreement that if tuition isn’t discounted, online school isn’t worth putting myself in debt and my family in a burdensome financial position. Also, one of my majors is Theater, so that’s another issue with online school.”

Other students, however, will not have much of a decision. FGLI and international students are significantly less likely to take a leave of absence compared to the general population. 

 For international students, this disparity can be attributed to visa restrictions and financial constraints. To maintain their international student visas (F-1, M-1, and J-1), they must preserve their status as a full-time student. Some students also mentioned that due to financial reasons such as scholarship requirements, they cannot delay their graduation.  

Taking a leave of absence for one semester, however, is not feasible for some students who need to graduate on time, because many required classes are only offered during the Fall semester. As college policy currently stands, students will also be unable to apply for campus housing if they are not enrolled.

Moving forward

The Academic Continuity Working Group, a student, faculty and administrator group created by Provost Sarah Willie-LeBreton in mid-April, had SGO survey students on potential formats, invited students to write them about their circumstances, and consulted with different campus departments throughout the months of March and April, releasing a list of pros and cons for each option here in mid-May but excluding any survey data. 

In late June, Dean of Students Jim Terhune invited SGO leaders Vetter, Ukani and Katie Reeves ’22 to convey student feedback as part of a meeting with the Student Committee, one of many planning groups that will continue to direct adjustments related to the pandemic throughout the 2020-2021 school year, including coming up with social distancing measures and community guidelines. 

As discussed above, the release of a reopening plan will not resolve all of students’ questions and needs. Many ask that the College provide housing to a larger number of students than they did during the Spring 2020 remote learning period, and others ask for more than just housing: resources that weren’t available off campus.

“I want more resources given to students — Creative Cloud because we don’t have access to campus computers — Printing stipends — Food funds — Support for FLI students — A CAPS that doesn’t have a waitlist to make people feel like they can’t use it because other people need it more — Support and actual accommodations for those struggling with online classes. Also, I would love to see EVS staff to get pay-upgrades,” one student wrote. 

Some students’ needs were more straightforward.

“I just want a decision to be made ASAP so that I can make my plans for next year,” one wrote. “I wish there was more transparency and communication from the admin.”

It is likely that the college’s plan for Fall 2020 will be released this week. Below are examples of plans some universities with similar nature to Swarthmore have already released.

Have more concerns about Fall 2020? Want to tell your story? Want to tell us what we can do better? Email us. Bayliss Wagner, jwagner2@swarthmore.edu or Peem Lerdputtipongporn, plerdpu1@swarthmore.edu.

NameSpecific Info Who can return? / Housing situations
Yale University-“Residential/remote” model
-Online early registration and shopping periods 
– De-densified housing for all students who wish to return to campus
University of Pennsylvania– Classes with 25+ students are recorded.
– All Students will be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive on-campus.
– Guaranteed housing only for first-years, sophomores, and transfers.
– Private bedroom- Socially distant dining halls.
Bryn Mawr / Haverford– Remote options available, but not all classes will be online.
– No Fall break.
– De-densified housing. 
– Expect stagger arrivals, but no mention of who can return. 
Bowdoin College– No Fall or Winter sports.
– All classes online, except first-year seminars.
Rationale for online classes: “allow faculties to focus on single model of teaching”
– On-campus students’ tuition = $33k
– Off-campus students’ = $27k. 
– ONLY first-years, senior honors who need on-campus resources, those with situations that prevent online learning, and residential staff can return on-campus.
Rationale for not allowing everyone to return: 
1. “…too risky to permit a densely packed environment with everyone back on campus..”
2. Protecting the health and safety of students, faculty and staff, residents of Brunswick (Bowdoin College is in Brunswick, Maine). 
Wellesley College – All students will live in a single room.
– Housing available for those who “need to be on campus all year”
– First-years and sophomores can return in Fall 2020, whereas juniors and seniors in Spring 2021. 

Survey Notes

This data, except the graph about Spring 2020 remote learning challenges, comes from a survey that the Phoenix conducted from June 22-25. Because this survey was posted in the Facebook group, it may have voluntary response bias and does not take into account opinions of non-Facebook users.


  • Our survey received 254 responses, representing approximately 16% of the Swarthmore student population. Among these responses, 
    • 57% of our respondents said their prospective major is in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics); 53% in Social Sciences; and 32% in Humanities*.
    • 13% of our respondents are international students, whereas the remaining 87% are domestic students. 
    • 32% of our respondents self-identified as a first-generation/low-income (FGLI); 63% did not; and 5% preferred not to answer. 
    • On financial aid questions, 44% of our respondents did not receive any financial aid; 13% received financial aid that covers half of their tuition; 14% more than half of their tuition; and 29% virtually all of their tuition.
    • 21% had some disabilities or vulnerabilities that weigh on their preference on Fall 2020 format; 70% did not; and the remaining preferred not to answer.
    • If Swarthmore did not guarantee housing throughout Fall 2020, one-fifth of the respondents said they are not confident they could procure a stable and sufficient housing situation.
    • Approximately 90% of the respondents said they had a stable and sufficient housing after the 2020 Spring Break — when Swarthmore switched to an online instruction. 

*The percentage sum exceeds 100% because some respondents list prospective majors in more than one division.

Credits: Reporting by Bayliss Wagner and Peem Lerdputtipongporn. Data analysis by Peem. Web design and data visualizations by Bayliss.

Bayliss Wagner

Bayliss '21 is from Vienna, VA. She is majoring in English literature and minoring in computer science and French.

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