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Pipatjarasgit '21: Enrollment as a part-time undergraduate student: An option that should be available to all

In July 2020, shortly after Brown released its plan for conducting the academic year amidst the current pandemic, I sat at home weighing my options for how I would choose to navigate what I knew would be an atypical academic year. I worried that, in spite of the University’s best efforts, it would be difficult for me to adapt academically with the changes and restrictions resulting from COVID-19. Considering my own needs and goals, I began to wonder if the University’s traditional eight semesters of full-time undergraduate enrollment would continue to work for me this academic year. 

I weighed my options. Should I stay home? Should I take a leave of absence? Should I pursue a domestic study away option? After some thinking, I concocted a convoluted plan that would allow me to take fewer classes and save my parents’ money but nonetheless allow me to graduate on time. These were the basics of my plan: I declared a semester of advanced standing (to advance my incoming fall 2020 semester level from 07 to 08), petitioned the Committee on Academic Standing for an optional ninth semester and sought approval from Student Accessibility Services for a tuition-adjusted workload reduction during the fall 2020 semester. I am lucky that I was able to figure out an arrangement like this that would work for me, but it required intricate knowledge of various University rules and being eligible for accessibility-related academic accommodations. Taking a reduced course load should not be this difficult for undergraduate students.  

Many students have noticed my frequent contributions on Dear Blueno, a Facebook page for the Brown community on which I often answer anonymously submitted questions relating to academic advising or University policies, and I often receive unsolicited questions from students based on my presence there. A surprising question that I have received a couple times in the past year is whether part-time enrollment, defined as taking fewer than three courses in a semester, is allowed. Unfortunately, the answer is no for most undergraduate students; under current rules, part-time enrollment is usually only allowed with a workload reduction approved by Student Accessibility Services, during a student’s ninth or tenth semester or for Resumed Undergraduate Students who are approved for part-time enrollment.

Split eighth semesters, which allowed students to delay their graduation by a semester and take two courses during each of their final two semesters, used to be permissible; this practice ended in 2014 in favor of the optional ninth semester. Although one could theoretically petition the Committee on Academic Standing for an unusual exception, no such standardized process currently exists to entertain these requests. I therefore believe that these petitions would almost certainly be automatically denied.

But this type of inflexibility is not what we need right now. The landscape of higher education is changing, and students may not want to be completely in or out. A medical condition or disability should not be the only acceptable reason for seeking part-time enrollment; students may be dealing with family issues, pursuing a non-credit personal project or working in a semester-long, non-credit internship. And of course, COVID-19 has disrupted all of our lives, often forcing us to reexamine our priorities and make unexpected decisions such as the one I made. In my case, I admit that I created this convoluted arrangement in part to save my family money on tuition, but it was also because I wanted to enjoy my senior year as best as I can. 

The University should consider making part-time enrollment more available to students. The College’s “Residence Requirement,” as outlined in the University Bulletin, calls for students to study in residence for “at least four semesters as a full-time student,” but it appears that there are no explicit rules limiting part-time study beyond the three current acceptable reasons for part-time enrollment. Therefore, I don’t understand why there are so few approved options allowing for part-time enrollment. Given that Brown’s Open Curriculum promotes individualized academic trajectories, part-time semesters should also be permitted so that students have more agency in choosing how to pursue their education. Similarly, I hope that the University reconsiders its advanced standing policies, as it ordinarily only grants advanced standing in multiples of four enrollment units. More flexibility with advanced standing will make it even easier for students to potentially enjoy a semester or two of part-time enrollment, should that option become more accessible. Brown currently accommodates extenuating circumstances and supports non-traditional academic paths by allowing students to declare leaves of absence. Allowing part-time enrollment would reaffirm the University’s commitment to empowering students, enabling them to more freely chart their own undergraduate journeys.

Poom Andrew Pipatjarasgit ’21 is simultaneously in both his eighth and ninth semesters at Brown and will graduate in May 2021. He is fully aware of how ridiculous this sounds. He can be reached at poom_pipatjarasgit@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.



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