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The vast majority of all respondents plan to return to campus for the upcoming semester.

Credit: Melanie Hilman

Following Penn’s decision to conduct fall 2020 in a hybrid format amid the coronavirus pandemic, The Daily Pennsylvanian surveyed undergraduate students on whether they plan to return to campus for a nearly all virtual semester.

About 78% of respondents plan to return to campus this fall, but when asked to rate their trust in the Student Campus Compact on a scale of one to five — one being "not at all," and five being "completely" — the average response was 2.61.

The survey, which ran from July 25 to July 31, garnered 906 responses from the Class of 2021 through the Class of 2024. Of all respondents, roughly 19.8% self-identified as first-generation, low-income students and 14.6% as international students. The survey received 221 anonymous free-form responses regarding general concerns about the upcoming semester. 

Respondents who are choosing to return to campus this fall cited their academic experience, social life, and mental health as primary factors influencing their decision. Respondents who are not returning to campus indicated concerns of personal physical health and the health of their family. 

While approximately one-fifth of all respondents do not plan on returning to campus, survey results showed a noticeable uptick in the percentage of surveyed international students who do not plan on returning to campus at 47%. An overwhelming majority of FGLI students, however, plan on returning to campus. Only 16% of FGLI respondents indicated they will stay at home for the fall semester.

Freeform responses expressed concerns that some students will not follow the Campus Compact health guidelines and that these guidelines will not be enforced by the University. The Campus Compact health guidelines expect students to adhere to public health and safety measures that include maintaining a six-foot physical distance from others, wearing facial coverings, and using the mobile PennOpen Pass app for daily wellness checks.  

"The unspoken truth of this fall 2020 semester that no one wants to admit for some reason is that we have decided, or rather, the circumstances have simply underlined, that academics and learning at Penn is a distant second priority to hanging out and partying," a Penn student wrote. "Nobody I know is taking an in-person class."

Multiple respondents cited concerns that an outbreak will occur in the fall and force students to return home.

"I’ve seen many people talking about their plans to get together in each other’s dorms, etc," another Penn student wrote. "I don’t feel safe returning to campus, and I would honestly be surprised if there wasn’t an outbreak."

The majority of surveyed students expressed satisfaction with their on-campus housing assignments received through Residential Services, averaging a 3.9 score when asked to rate their received assignment from one to five — one being "not at all" and five being "completely." Nearly 40% of respondents will live in on-campus housing, while about 37% will live off campus.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported slightly more than 4,000 undergraduates will live in on-campus housing this fall, about 75% of the normal occupancy. Nearly 400 students opted out of on-campus housing in the last week, Penn's Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé told the Inquirer. He expects even more students to opt out before the arrival dates in late August. 

Only 2.4% of surveyed students will take either a leave of absence from the fall semester or a gap year for the upcoming academic year. Approximately five percent still remain unsure if they will choose either of those options. 

When asked to rate their overall feelings about the fall semester on a scale of one to five — one being negative, and five being positive — the average response was 2.77. This response fares slightly lower than respondents' answers to the same question in a survey conducted by the DP in late June, which reported at 2.85.

Penn announced on Friday that nearly all undergraduate classes will be taught online this semester, an update to its initial hybrid instruction model announced in late June. All undergraduates returning to campus must take at least two COVID-19 tests regardless of whether they are living on or off campus.

The University has incurred 176 coronavirus cases among its student body as of July 28, and currently has no more than two active cases, neither of which are currently on campus, Dubé wrote in an email to the DP on July 29.

The survey represents data conducted during the week prior to the University's July 31 deadline for students to confirm their housing assignments.