The University of Pennsylvania will hold only remote classes for undergraduates this fall, and almost no students will live in its dormitories, officials said Tuesday. Penn will also cut tuition by 3.9%.
Citing the “alarming rate” of COVID-19 spread across the country, officials including Penn president Amy Gutmann said that they could not offer the hybrid learning experience they had hoped, with students who wanted to live on campus doing so. Instead, all classes will be held virtually and dorms will be open only to international students and those with “significant housing or personal hardships.”
Penn’s decision comes as a growing number of school districts and universities opt for all digital experiences in the face of rising coronavirus cases. Princeton University on Friday made that move. Other schools — including Lehigh, Rutgers, West Chester, the College of New Jersey, and Dickinson — have gone the same route, with no or very limited housing on campuses.
Penn also joins a number of schools cutting student costs, despite the pandemic’s wreaking havoc with school finances.
Penn had initially planned to bring about 4,000 students back to campus for the fall semester. Roughly 5,500 students lived on campus before the pandemic.
Graduate and professional programs at Penn will evaluate their own operations, officials said.
Gutmann and other top university officials said they made the decision with “an enormous sense of sadness.” But if they did allow all Penn students to live on campus with the current trends of coronavirus spread, officials said, most would have to go into a two-week quarantine. Supply chain issues have also hampered the availability and turnaround time for COVID-19 tests.
“The combination of these factors radically constrains our ability to provide a safe and meaningful on-campus experience for our undergraduates,” Gutmann said in a message to the university community.
Penn had already said most courses would be online, with limited exceptions for some classes, like nursing clinics. No on-campus activities will be held, either.
“For the safety of our students and the broader community, we are encouraging all other students not to return to Philadelphia,” the university’s message said.
Officials said the university’s faculty would provide robust educational opportunities, but they “deeply regret that these changes represent a significant disappointment to families and students.”
Penn’s tuition cut effectively freezes last year’s tuition rate. Penn will also reduce its general fee by 10%. Students who have paid housing and dining fees will receive credits or refunds.
Earlier this month, Penn students set to work in residence halls aired concerns with any plan to bring students back to campus, demanding hazard pay and safer conditions inside dorms.
Penn’s announcement, which comes less than a month before the planned Sept. 1 start of the fall semester, threw many students’ plans into question.
“RAs and GAs still don’t have any information about whether we still have our housing, whether we are able to work remotely and still keep our jobs and housing for at least the spring,” said Kaiyla Banks, a rising senior from Philadelphia and a resident adviser who worries about what the decision will mean for vulnerable first-generation college students and those who are low-income. “We’re still in the dark.”
Cole McCann-Phillips, a rising sophomore from Berkeley, Calif., said many of his peers have already bought plane tickets to Philadelphia because Penn said they would have a place to live.
“It really is just horrifying to me, the lack of cognizance that Penn has demonstrated by including one line in the email asking students not to return to West Philadelphia,” McCann-Phillips said. “It’s a really hard Catch-22 because, on the one hand, you don’t want to bring people from around the country into Philadelphia, but on the other hand, people should be guaranteed housing by the university.”
More privileged Penn students who already planned to come to University City will now likely search for off-campus housing, McCann-Phillips said, calling the move “tone-deaf.”
“Displacing people from the West Philadelphia community is definitely going to happen,” he said.