Reuben Ng

If the Yale administration decides to continue instruction completely online this fall, Zoom classrooms may be less crowded than usual.

As the Yale community awaits announcements regarding how education will continue in the fall semester, the News surveyed Yale College students from the classes of 2021 through 2023 about their opinions regarding online learning. Results from the survey suggest that 52 percent of student respondents are at least “likely” to postpone enrollment if students are not allowed to return to campus. If students are able to live, learn and attend classes in person, roughly 7 percent would consider taking time off from school. The anonymous survey — which began accepting submissions on May 21 and closed on May 25 — received 2,129 responses, representing about 35 percent of the undergraduate student population.

Roughly a quarter of student respondents were willing to consider taking time off if a hybrid model — like that of the University of California, Berkeley, which allows for some in-person activities amid a largely online semester — were implemented.

 

Eighty-eight percent of students who answered the News’ survey said they preferred an in-person semester with options for online learning. Few students prefer a hybrid remote learning system or an online-only model — 2 and 6 percent, respectively.

Yale has stayed largely silent on plans for the fall semester, with administrators saying they plan on announcing a decision by early July. Still, according to a Thursday internal email to faculty members, Yale College and graduate courses will be primarily online, and the University plans to “de-densify” living areas to accommodate at least some students. This information was not available to those who took the survey in May.

Results indicate that Yale and other highly ranked universities face an uphill battle if they want to keep tuition revenues up during an online semester, endowment expert Charles Skorina said.

“I realize that they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “But you’re going to have to bring students on campus, or you’ll lose them.”

Skorina added that these numbers could partially be blamed on tuition. If online classes cost students as much as an in-person learning experience, he said, students could decide to wait until they get more value for their money.

Low enough enrollment could bring a “reckoning” for Yale and universities like it, which charge tens of thousands of dollars every semester — “an arm and a leg,” Skorina explained.

“They’re getting away with just flat murder,” he said, referring to tuition costs he considers exorbitant. “What’s the difference if you’re University of Phoenix or Harvard?”

Two students interviewed by the News also raised questions about whether the University should charge students the same rates for what many consider an inferior product.

Tristan Weaver ’22 wrote in an email to the News that he thought that online classes are not “of the same value to students as in person classes are.”

“I suppose that I feel paying almost $30,000 for four or five much less interactive online classes is a bit ridiculous, and I certainly would not be opposed to paying less for what I perceive to be an inferior product,” he said.

Weaver also noted that professors and graduate students would still put in an equal or greater amount of work into students’ education — which may justify the price tag.

When asked to comment on the numbers and student attitudes towards the fall, FAS Dean of Undergraduate Education Pamela Schirmeister did not respond to a request for comment.

While many students cited academic experiences as a factor when considering whether or not to take time off, the top concerns given by respondents center on social interactions and extracurriculars.

 

This is consistent with the frustrations students voiced about virtual learning in the spring 2020 semester: 95 percent of respondents said that their social experiences this spring were much worse than previous semesters, while an additional 4 percent said they were slightly worse. Students were slightly less frustrated with the educational experience — 60 percent of respondents said it was much worse and around 33 percent said it was slightly worse.

 

Survey responses also showed that students with higher household incomes were more likely to consider time off. Fifty-eight percent of students with household incomes above $250,000 said they were likely to take a leave of absence if the fall semester is entirely online, while only 46 percent of students with household incomes below $100,000 said they would consider the same.

Students differed on their preferred grading system for the fall — around 35 percent said they favored an opt-in Credit/D/Fail system, while around 40 percent said they favored some form of a universal pass policy. This marks a substantial difference from a Yale College Council survey conducted after spring term classes moved online: In that survey, 68 percent of respondents favored a mandatory pass/fail grading system to finish the remainder of the semester.

 

“Planning for all of next semester’s possible scenarios and grading policies is still in progress, so it’s too soon to announce any specific recommendations,” Yale College Dean Marvin Chun wrote in an email, “but the groups working on them are learning from what students and instructors have said about their experiences.”

Yale administrators plan to decide how students will learn this upcoming semester by early July. 

Until then, however, the University has made some guarantees about when students will start their semester. University Provost Scott Strobel announced an update to Yale College’s academic calendar earlier this month. No matter what happens, he wrote in the announcement, students will spend the final weeks of the semester — including final exams — online. It remains unclear how earlier weeks will be arranged, although a potential plan described in a presentation to faculty members earlier this month hinted at a range of options.

This story is the first in a series of articles examining student attitudes towards the coronavirus pandemic, the spring semester and potential plans for the fall. The News received several dozen additional responses past a cutoff date which were not included in its analysis.

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu