After the College announced that that some, but not all, students will be returning to campus for the fall 2020 semester, 75 percent of students reported dissatisfaction with the plan in a survey conducted by the Orient. The College’s plan allows only first years, transfer students, students with “home situations that make online learning nearly impossible,” Residential Life staff and senior students who are working on honors projects that require access to College facilities to return to campus.
The Orient sent the survey to the student body on June 22—the day the College announced its decision—and received responses from 1,027 students from the classes of 2024, 2023, 2022 and 2021. Based on the most recent count of Bowdoin’s enrollment—1,972 in the fall of 2019—52 percent of students participated.
Generally, the classes of 2023, 2022 and 2021 showed similar satisfaction and dissatisfaction percentages, especially on matters such as the plan to bring some, but not all, students back to campus in the fall, as well as responses from the administration and President Clayton Rose. While members of the class of 2024 shared some concerns with students in the other three cohorts, their rates of approval were higher, and they also raised specific issues regarding the risks and challenges of being on campus and their introduction to the College during a time of primarily remote learning.
The class of 2023 had the highest participation rate with responses from 264 students, constituting 26 percent of the responses. The classes of 2024 and 2021 had the lowest response rates, with 251 students participating from each class. The classes of 2024 and 2021 each constituted 24 percent of the total responses.
“Some, but not all students” will return to campus:
Overall, the majority of the student body is dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied with the College’s plan to bring some, but not all, students back to campus for the fall 2020 semester.
The classes of 2023, 2022 and 2021 were at large extremely dissatisfied. Sixty-three percent of respondents from the class of 2023 were extremely dissatisfied with the College’s decision, as were 53 percent of respondents from the class of 2022 and 60 percent of the respondents from the class of 2021.
The class of 2024, the majority of whom will likely be residing on campus, was significantly less dissatisfied regarding the plan to bring some, but not all, students back to campus, with only 23 percent of the class expressing extreme dissatisfaction. Of those who did report dissatisfaction, survey comments point to a broad division between those who are primarily upset that they will not have the opportunity to form relationships with many upperclassmen and those who are more concerned about whether, given recent developments with COVID-19, it will be safe for them to be on campus in the fall.
“I understand [the decision] in large part, but feel disappointed seniors weren’t prioritized,” wrote a member of the class of 2021.
Overall, the majority of students reported feeling sad, anxious and angry about the College’s decision. Other commonly cited emotions included disappointment and disbelief. Students were able to select multiple emotions on the survey. A small number of students, most belonging to the class of 2024, reported feeling excited.
“I am excited that I will be starting my first year at Bowdoin on campus, however I’m worried that if there is an outbreak at the college, we will all be sent home and have to spend the whole year studying online,” wrote a member of the class of 2024.
All courses apart from first-year seminars will take place online. All class years had similar satisfaction levels towards this aspect of the plan.
Both the class of 2021 and 2024 were 79 percent dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied, while the class of 2023 was the most dissatisfied, with 83 percent of respondents reporting being dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied with an entirely remote semester.
“The academic […] portion is of the utmost concern for me. As a learner I need discussions and person to person relationships,” wrote a member of the class of 2023.
The College announced in the plan that tuition for the fall semester will stay the same as it was for the 2019-2020 academic year, which is $33,935 for students residing on campus and $27,911 for students not eligible to return to Bowdoin. President Rose said in a Zoom town hall on Tuesday evening that he decided to keep the tuition the same was because the quality of education will be the same. Many students did not feel that this commitment sufficiently addressed their concerns.
“No matter how many improvements they make to the online learning style, it can never be the same as studying in a traditional college setting, and still they charge $28,000 for the semester,” wrote a member of the class of 2023.
The class of 2024, the majority group that will be returning to campus, was 24 percent satisfied or extremely satisfied with the cost of tuition for fall semester and 49 percent dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied. Other respondents were either not satisfied or dissatisfied or had no opinion.
Four percent of the class of 2023 and six percent of the class of 2022 expressed satisfaction or extreme satisfaction with the tuition for the fall of 2021.
“However ‘revolutionary’ these online courses are, they will lack nearly everything that drew me to Bowdoin in the first place (and they certainly won’t be worth $27,911),” wrote a member of the class of 2023.
The class of 2021 was the least satisfied with the cost of tuition. Only three percent were satisfied or extremely satisfied.
“The main issue I’m having is how to justify the amount of money for tuition for what we’re getting. I see tuition as a sunk cost at this point, and I understand the extremely difficult and responsible decision the administration made. It’s just tough to grapple with that number,” wrote a member of the class of 2021.
“I wish the college were more transparent about where exactly the costs of our tuition are going,” wrote another member of the class of 2021.
The classes of 2023, 2022 and 2021 reported similar percentages of satisfaction regarding the response from the administration and President Rose. The class of 2023 was the most dissatisfied with the administration’s response, with 80 percent of students being dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied, while the class of 2022 followed closely with 78 percent. The incoming senior class had the lowest dissatisfaction rate of returning students, with 75 percent of the class of 2021 feeling dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied.
Many students remarked that the decision made sense for the health and safety of the community. However, many were also frustrated with the College’s response to questions regarding tuition, to international students’ visas to academics.
“I agree in that I do believe it’s the safest choice in terms of health, but I am disappointed in how it doesn’t seem well thought out at the moment. President Rose hasn’t given sufficient or satisfactory answers to many questions about tuition, counseling, classes, and how the College will work to help [first-generation, low income] and international students,” wrote a member of the class of 2022.
Some students expressed disappointment that the College did not choose one of the four solutions proposed by the Return to Campus Committee and that Bowdoin’s choice deviated from those of fellow NESCAC colleges, including Bates and Colby.
“I am disappointed that President Rose did not follow one of the return to campus strategies outlined by the focus group,” wrote a member of the class of 2023.
Unlike the three returning classes, only 39 percent of the class of 2024 were dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied with Bowdoin administration’s response.
“I appreciate how careful they are being, and that President Rose has taken a pay cut,” wrote a member of the class of 2024.
In a survey published by the Orient in May, 70 percent of returning students said they would not enroll in a remote fall semester. However, in the Orient’s June survey, only 11 percent of students reported that they were definitely taking the semester off. At the same time, nearly 43 percent of students were unsure whether they would take the semester off. Forty-six percent said they would definitely enroll in the fall.
On the survey, students were asked to rank the factors that were part of their decision about whether to enroll in the fall, including academic, health, athletic, the College’s leave of absence policy, social and financial. Students were able to elaborate on these factors or identify others, and some international students listed their visa eligibility as a relevant condition. The graphs reflect the factor that each student identified as holding the most importance in their decision-making process.
Leading contributors to the decision include the College’s changes to the voluntary leave of absence policy, which means that students must reapply to the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs to re-enroll in the College. Students in good standing who take time off will not be at risk of losing their place at Bowdoin, but, depending on constraints around College capacity, they may not be able to re-enroll for the semester of their choice.
Students cited dissatisfaction with this new element of the policy, and they also reported frustration that the College had not reconsidered the part of the policy that prevents students from transferring credit from courses taken at another institution while on a personal leave of absence. Multiple students reported a desire to enroll in less expensive courses at community colleges and public colleges and universities, particularly given Bowdoin’s tuition price for students who will be taking courses remotely in the fall. The College is not placing limits on how many students can take a voluntary leave of absence.
“The Leave of Absence policy is obviously a way to make it more difficult for students to take a leave of absence,” wrote a member of the class of 2021.
Other factors, such as personal finance and academics, also played significant roles in students’ decisions to take a semester off.
“As an 22 year old senior with plans pursuing further degrees I cannot afford to ‘not return until spring  or later,’” wrote another member of the class of 2021.