Exchange with UPenn Returns for First Time Since Pandemic

A landscape of a building at the University of Pennsylvania.

On Jan. 14, College Registrar Kristen Smith announced that, for the first time since the college’s closure in spring of 2020, students would be able to enroll in courses at UPenn through the Quaker Consortium.

Since the Fall 2021 semester, Swarthmore students have been able to cross-register for courses at Bryn Mawr and Haverford through the Tri-College program, but until Smith’s email, UPenn’s plans to resume participation in the exchange were unclear. 

“The University of Pennsylvania has informed us that they will have limited participation in the Quaker Consortium for Spring 2022,” Smith announced in a campus-wide email. 

As of Jan. 24, UPenn has resumed in person classes at all of their schools, according to guidelines announced by senior administration. 

Over the last six years, 446 Swarthmore students have enrolled in either the Tri-College program or the Quaker Consortium, with a total of 35 planning to participate this Spring semester, according to data provided by the Registrar’s Office. Seventeen students will take courses at Bryn Mawr, nine at Haverford, and nine at UPenn. In recent years, courses at Bryn Mawr and UPenn have attracted the most Swarthmore students. 

According to Smith, English, business, linguistics, and political science are among the most popular disciplines for Swarthmore program participants.

Swarthmore limits cross-registration to one course per semester, with first-year students ineligible to participate. In addition, enrolling in UPenn courses that are also regularly offered at Swarthmore is not permitted. 

For many students, studying within specialized disciplines is a draw to the Quaker Consortium. UPenn offers a range of courses with pre-professional focuses — including nursing, management, and criminology — that aren’t available at Swarthmore. Instruction in more infrequently taught languages such as Quechua and Zulu is also open to students through UPenn’s Language Center.

Due to the suspension of the Quaker Consortium, many students missed out on opportunities to take classes at UPenn. In an interview with The Phoenix, Cynthia Shi ’23 expressed her frustration with the program’s year-long shutdown.

“I found a class at Penn being offered in the Fall of 2021 about the Iliad, and it was taught by Emily Wilson, a classics professor and Homeric scholar who was also the first woman to translate the Odyssey into English, which is a big deal,” Shi explained. “Despite getting approval from the classics department at Swarthmore and Professor Wilson, I wasn’t able to take the course because the exchange was shut down.”

While some students, like Shi, weren’t able to enroll in courses at UPenn that are not frequently offered at Swarthmore, other students are excited for the opportunity to take classes in the future and are excited that the Quaker Consortium is resuming.

In an interview with The Phoenix, Zoha Ashraf ’24 explained that, while she was happy with the selection of courses at Swarthmore for the Spring 2022 semester, she is considering taking a class at UPenn in the Fall 2022 semester now that the exchange is again being offered.

“When I heard the consortium was starting up again, I was delighted, because even though I really like Swat’s course selection for my area of interest, I think it’s nice to have UPenn as a backup in case I get lotteried out of a class, which happens frequently,” she said. 

Still, some students reported difficulties with navigating the consortium system. Phillipe Kame ’24 tried to register for a course in UPenn’s Department of Architecture but found the process frustrating. 

“The [UPenn] professor wouldn’t let me register for the class because according to him, I had missed too many classes. This was weird because the registrar at Penn registered me for the course. When I explained the situation, they told me the class was still marked as ‘open,'” Kame wrote. “It has been a pretty negative experience for me because it’s something I had been planning since last semester. I was in constant communication with the registrar here and Penn LPS (the department previously in charge of the consortium apparently) and they weren’t even able to return any emails, as well as the architecture department there.”

While the Tri-Co shuttle service ferries Swarthmore students to Bryn Mawr and Haverford on weekdays until 7 p.m, Smith wrote that those enrolled in classes at UPenn have historically had transportation costs between the campuses reimbursed but did not confirm whether that would be the case this spring. 

For Ashraf, enrolling in a course at UPenn would offer not only a unique academic and networking opportunity but a change in scenery. 

“I also think it’s nice because Swat is so small,” Ashraf explained. “Taking classes at UPenn gives students the opportunity to meet new people and network with professors and other students.”

Lauren Mermelstein contributed to the reporting of this piece.

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