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Nearly 800 students to attend Brown remotely for fall semester

International students account for largest subset of remote learners

Approximately 800 undergraduate students will study remotely during the upcoming semester, accounting for around 15.5 percent of respondents to the Fall 2020 Location of Study Form, which was completed by sophomores, juniors and seniors in July.

The form, which was due July 15, asked students to indicate whether they planned to complete their coursework remotely or on College Hill. If they chose to study in Providence, students were also asked whether they intended to live on or off campus. 

Dean of the College Rashid Zia wrote in an email to The Herald that the response rate for the form was not 100 percent at the time of publication, but noted that at least 97 percent of students completed the form. 

The data reviewed by The Herald broke down enrollment plans by student’s class year, financial aid status, gender and membership in historically underrepresented groups.

Among sophomores, juniors and seniors — all of whom are invited back to campus this fall — the highest percentage of sophomores, 19.1 percent, indicated plans to study remotely, followed by 16.7 percent of juniors. Only 11.5 percent of seniors indicated that they planned to study remotely. 

“I imagine for seniors, the desire to come back for their final year is probably a strong motivator to want to be with their classmates, to work on research projects, to be in Providence for one last year,” said Dean of the College Rashid Zia. “And for sophomores … there is a hope that this pandemic will abate at some point, and that they know they will have additional time to come live and reside in Providence.”

Because first-years will come to campus for the spring and summer semesters of the tri-semester academic calendar, their enrollment plans were not included in the data the University provided to The Herald.

A total of 29.7 percent of international student respondents across the three class years plan to study remotely, according to the data. Those students have had to weigh immigration guidelines and public health concerns, The Herald previously reported.

About 16 percent of students receiving financial aid from the University plan to study remotely, while 15 percent of unaided students indicated the same, according to the data.

Additionally, 15.9 percent of HUG students have opted to study remotely, while 13 percent of non-HUG students said they would study away from College Hill.


Zia said that discrepancies in study plans between aided and unaided students, as well as HUG and non-HUG students, are small enough to be considered statistically insignificant, and that variation is normal and expected. He also said that the University hopes to ensure that no community is disproportionately impacted by any decision affecting student life. “If we saw large variations here, we would be concerned,” Zia said.

With each policy analysis, “what we do try to gauge is whether or not there’s going to be an impact on equity and access to the campus, and whether students felt free to make these choices, and there’s nothing about these numbers that suggests any significant differences between student groups, except for international students,” Zia said. “And those are really circumstances outside of our control.”

As a member of the Healthy Fall 2020 Task Force, Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Shontay Delalue wrote in an email to The Herald that she “was one of multiple voices that centered equity as we discussed a variety of options” for a safe return to campus. “Similar to (Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan) work, while the (Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity) serves as a central office, it is everyone's job to consider equity and inclusion,” she wrote.

Of students studying in Providence, 30.8 percent of students on financial aid plan to live off-campus in Providence or commute, while 40.3 percent of unaided students plan to do the same. The dataset reflects a similar discrepancy between the percentage of HUG students living off campus or commuting (29 percent) and the higher percentage of non-HUG students indicating the same plans (38.7 percent). 

Zia said that he does not believe that there are inherent privileges associated with off-campus housing that may explain the higher proportions of unaided and non-HUG students choosing to live off campus or commute. Rather, he argued, the discrepancies are a function of difference in student preferences. “I imagine people make that decision for a variety of reasons,” he said, emphasizing that some students may choose to live on campus to find community. 

“There are students at all levels of financial aid that choose to live off campus,” Zia said. “Those decisions are relatively stable for all students, regardless of financial aid.”

Individual circumstances will inevitably vary regardless of identity group, Zia said, and the University will continue to honor the unique challenges students may be facing. “Brown believes deeply in allowing students to make choices for their individual circumstances,” Zia said. 

“The data set alone is not enough information to compare non-HUG and HUG responses,” Delalue wrote. “We know that all students were given access to the same information in order to make the most informed decision for themselves — likely in consultation with their families. It is my hope that all students were able to make the best and most informed decision for themselves which is in line with Brown's approach to education.”

Given the pandemic’s proven disproportionate impact on people of color across the country, “some HUG students, among others, may be in more vulnerable situations due to the nature of the pandemic and its impact on families of color,” Delalue wrote. “It is my hope that students can access campus resources and support remotely and be given access to the information they need to make the best decision for themselves.”

As the United States reckons with racial inequity in its institutions, including in higher education, Delalue wrote that the OIED will continue to engage with students regardless of their location of study. “Whether students are back on campus or studying remotely, they are our students,” she wrote. “This does not change the fact that their voices are critically important.”

Update: On Aug. 11, Brown announced that all undergraduate classes would be remote until at least the week of Oct. 5, with only a limited number of students allowed back on campus during this period. A decision about phase two of Brown's reopening will be made by Sept. 11. 


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