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Penn will have a decision regarding the fall semester by the end of June.

Credit: Chase Sutton

While colleges across the country continue to develop their plans for the fall 2020 semester, Penn is working through four possible scenarios and vowing to provide a final decision for the fall semester format by the end of June. 

The University's four outlined scenarios have drawn mixed reactions from students, as some believe any form of on-campus instruction is too great a risk, while others wish Penn would have provided more specifics in the May 21 community-wide email. 

The four fall semester scenarios include a hybrid model of in-person and online instruction, a transition from in-person to remote learning following the Thanksgiving holiday, an expanded summer course curriculum in 2021, and an entirely remote fall semester.

Many students, including rising College senior Carson Eckhard, said they appreciated receiving an update with specific details on the University's planning process. Eckhard, who is the Chair External of Penn’s Student Committee on Undergraduate Education, said she has advocated for greater transparency from administrators. She believes Penn’s latest update is an example of the administration trying to be as transparent as possible with the community. 

Though rising Nursing sophomore Leonelly Guerra said she was grateful to know the University's considerations, she was frustrated that administrators did not deem any singular scenario as the most likely to be enacted in the fall.

Despite the risks associated with any form of in-person learning, rising Engineering sophomore Dylan Hurok said he hopes that Penn will select its proposed hybrid online and in-person learning model.   

If Penn decides to move classes to a remote format following Thanksgiving break, rising Wharton sophomore Frank Lapinski said he could tolerate having additional class hours on evenings and weekends, an option mentioned in the May 21 email. 

Rising College junior Michael Nevett, however, said he would prefer if Penn would shift the entire semester schedule up two weeks in an effort to avoid any form of remote instruction, even though it was not proposed in the email. Earlier this week, both Duke University and Tulane University announced they will move the start of their fall semesters up by one week.

Guerra said she is wary of the possibility of a switch to remote classes after Thanksgiving break and said she feels that arriving at campus only to stay until November may not be worth the potential risk for infection.

The May 21 email explained if there were to be any on-campus instruction, a ‘Public Health Social Compact’ would be implemented. It would require students, faculty, and staff to wear facial masks, practice six-feet physical distancing measures, and avoid large gatherings of 25 or more people, including all extracurricular activities.

Credit: Ava Cruz

Nevett said he likes the University's idea of the Public Health Social Compact for following health guidelines on campus, but he doubts it would actually prevent large on-campus gatherings, especially after months of restrictive stay-at-home orders. 

Both Guerra and Lapinski said while they would ideally support a hybrid online and in-person semester, they believe remote learning is the only way to guarantee the safety of the Penn community. 

“If you don't want to respect [safety measures], you have to realize that you are going to be putting yourself, your family, [and] those around you at risk,” Guerra said. “So, in my eyes, I’d rather just go remote.”

An entirely remote semester, however, is something Hurok said he believes would be detrimental to students’ learning.

“If you start a semester out virtually, you'll never have the chance ever to connect with your professors in the same way or meet people in your classes to do work with and stuff like that,” Hurok added. 

Hurok, Guerra, and many other Nursing and Engineering students said they worry about the lack of hands-on activities that would be available through an entirely remote education. 

In the spring 2020 semester, Nursing students were unable to participate in their weekly clinicals, in which students learn about the field by visiting local hospitals. Even though Guerra said she was disappointed, she knows that clinicals would jeopardize the safety of nursing students and their families.

“One thing that we've been thinking about a lot is ‘How do you allow students to make connections both with teachers and with other students when you aren't in a classroom setting and you can't just turn to the person sitting next to you or stay a few minutes after class to connect with the professor?’” Eckhard said. “I think that community is something that's going to be really important, especially for incoming first-years.”

Eckhard and Lapinski both said they are concerned for incoming first-year students as they will be unable to have a full first-year experience, regardless of which scenario Penn selects.

"I think for next year's first years it might be a very, very hard thing for them, having to possibly not meet people in person and miss out on those really formative parts of your first-year experience," Lapinski said.

Rising Engineering junior JJ Kampf said that he would consider taking a gap year if he was a member of the Class of 2024.

Nevett said he and many of his friends would consider taking gap semesters themselves if Penn selected the entirely remote plan. “I wouldn't want to waste a semester, if that makes sense,” Nevett said. 

Penn's proposal of expanded summer course offerings for the summer of 2021 may be enacted regardless of the plan for the fall. This year, summer enrollment increased 70% from last May, leading Penn to add over 300 seats to courses and plan to add more sections and classes for Summer Session II. 

Many students, including Lapinski, said they appreciate the possibility of Penn expanding its summer course offerings next year, but worry the classes would interfere with possible future summer internships. 

Lapinski also said he does not plan to take a summer course this year, as summer 2020 financial aid is primarily awarded through loans. 

The Student Registration & Financial Services office typically releases its summer aid options in the spring semester of each year. SRFS Director of Communications Paul Richards wrote there are no unique plans regarding financial aid for summer 2021 in an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Eckhard said while the four scenarios provide a look at the administration's thoughts on the fall semester, it is too difficult to make a decision nearly three months from the currently scheduled first day of classes.

“I think it's hard to say which [scenario] would be better at this point because [there are] just so many unknowns,” Eckhard said.