In anticipation of Penn’s decision for fall 2020 University operations amid the coronavirus pandemic, The Daily Pennsylvanian surveyed undergraduate students on what they hope the upcoming semester will entail.
Over half of all respondents prefer a hybrid model of instruction with classes conducted through a mix of in-person and online instruction. About 30% of respondents prefer returning to campus for entirely in-person instruction, and nearly 65% of respondents strongly agree that on-campus housing should be open in the fall.
The survey, which ran for 48 hours from June 19 to June 21, garnered 921 responses from the Class of 2021 through the Class of 2024. Of all respondents, roughly 22% self-identified as first-generation, low-income students and 13.5% as international students. The survey received 192 anonymous free-form responses regarding general concerns about the upcoming semester.
While only roughly 9% prefer entirely remote online course instruction for fall 2020, about 65% of respondents would be more satisfied with potential online instruction if tuition costs are reduced for the 2020-2021 academic year.
Approximately 18% of total respondents and 25% of those who self-identified as international students are considering taking a leave of absence from Penn for the upcoming academic year.
Around half of survey respondents prefer extracurricular activities to be conducted in a hybrid format with a mix of in-person and remote activities. About 40% prefer all activities to be in person. Survey results did not reach a consensus on whether students think athletics should resume as normal in the fall.
If fall 2020 instruction is entirely online, Class Board 2023 President and rising Wharton sophomore Derek Nhieu said incoming first years will miss out on valuable social experiences that can only be achieved in person.
"Attending university isn't just academics. One really important aspect is actually the social aspect," Nhieu said. "I would assume that [an online format] would mean that there's going to be a lot less interaction, and also a lot less connection, which I think can really impact the class, because people just aren't talking to each other. They aren't making those connections that are what people typically actually carry with them out of university into real life."
Out of the four classes, the Class of 2024 expressed the most preference for all in-person instruction.
Nhieu said he believes the best scenario would be the hybrid model, where students are on campus observing social distancing practices and taking full advantage of available technology. He added that issues the University will have to address for the fall are housing and food security, so that all students are able to learn in an equitable environment.
"There are so many FGLI students that rely on the University to provide safe and stable housing, access to meals, and resources that allow us to thrive academically," a student wrote in the survey.
Penn announced four plans under consideration for fall 2020, with the University to announce a final decision by the end of June. The plans, which were detailed in a May 21 university-wide email from Penn President Amy Gutmann, range from a hybrid of in-person and online instruction, a shortened in-person semester ending on November 26, and entirely online learning.
The survey revealed a divided split between students’ preferences for the fall 2020 calendar schedule: roughly 32% prefer Penn’s regular academic calendar, nearly 31% prefer the option of in-person instruction until Thanksgiving break and then remote instruction until the end of the semester, and approximately 29% prefer a modified calendar that accommodates early start and end dates.
The top concerns cited by respondents include academic, extracurricular, social experiences, and mental health for the fall semester. When asked to rate their overall feelings about fall 2020 on a scale of one to five — one being negative, and five being positive — the average response was 2.85.
Some students, who represent the 9% of respondents who prefer entirely remote instruction, believe students will not adhere to implemented health and safety protocols and will compromise the health of the entire campus community.
"Gathering students on campus at this time, pretending it is fine to do so, seems not only irresponsible but also unconscientious," a student wrote, adding that they prefer the option to choose between online and in-person instruction.
Some international students wrote that they are hesitant to arrive on campus and risk coming back to the United States while coronavirus infection rates are still high. In late April, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda sent an email to non-Canadian international students to remind incoming students that they have the option of taking a gap year and joining the Class of 2025.
Class Board 2021 President and rising College and Wharton senior Lizzie Youshaei called for more communication between students and administration to help ensure on-campus safety, adding that many upperclassmen will be living near campus regardless of Penn's decision. Youshaei, who is currently living in an off-campus apartment near Penn and plans to continue doing so in the fall, said many students are also doing the same while pursuing remote work, as they have already paid for their apartment's lease.
"On a very basic level, we just want to be on campus and returning to life as we knew it as much as that is possible," Youshaei said. "And so, whatever safety protocols that requires, as long as we're on campus, I think that most of us will be happy with that, just to see each other."
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.