Princeton’s plan: Freshman, juniors on campus in fall — sophomores and seniors in spring

Princeton University found a creative way to cut on-campus capacity by half during the upcoming school year: Students will return to campus by class.

The university, in a plan announced Monday, said all incoming freshman and junior class students will be on campus in the fall semester. Rising sophomores and seniors will be on campus during the spring semester.

All graduate students may stay in campus graduate housing for the entirety of the upcoming academic year.

And, while those on campus potentially will have access to in-person instruction, the school said most academic instruction will remain online.

Princeton University President Chris Eisgruber.

Princeton President Chris Eisgruber, in a message to the university community, said the plan reinforces the school’s goal to provide high-quality education remotely and offer residential options for undergraduates while protecting the health and safety of the community.

“Over the last two months, my colleagues and I have been studying the pandemic and identifying measures we can take to accommodate students on campus,” Eisgruber said in his message.

“COVID-19 is still a very new disease, and much remains unknown about it. Several points have, however, become clear. Based on the information now available to us, we believe Princeton will be able to offer all of our undergraduate students at least one semester of on-campus education this academic year, but we will need to do much of our teaching online and remotely.”

Reduced time on campus will lead to a reduction in fees, too.

The university said all students will receive a 10% discount on tuition, whether they are on campus or learning remotely. In addition, activities and athletics fees will not be charged for the 2020-21 academic year.

Princeton also is adjusting its academic calendar.

The fall semester will start two days earlier, on Aug. 31, and fall break will be reduced from a full week to a long weekend. Students will leave campus before Thanksgiving and the fall semester reading period and exams will be fully remote thereafter. For the spring semester, the university will reduce the spring break week to a long weekend, also to reduce travel.

Princeton officials said every undergraduate student who plans to return to campus must sign a social contract that articulates their commitment to following health and safety protocols and to observing behavioral expectations designed to promote the well-being of everyone in the university community. By signing the social contract, each student affirms that they understand these constraints and accepts the responsibility to abide by them.

The social contract includes sections addressing required preparation before arriving on campus and required behavior while on campus. Students may be removed from campus housing if their conduct runs counter to the health and safety rules established by the university in response to the pandemic.

Princeton officials said they will test students for COVID-19 when they arrive and regularly thereafter.

Isolation — the separation of those who test positive for COVID-19, whether they have symptoms or not — will be mandatory for students who test positive.

Quarantine — separating people who are, or may have been, exposed to COVID-19, but are not showing signs of illness — will be mandatory for students who have been in close contact as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with someone who has COVID-19. University Health Services will continue to oversee testing, case management and contact tracing for students on campus.

In addition, every person on campus, including visitors, will be required to wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth at all times while indoors, except when they are alone in a space or are students in their assigned rooms or apartments, university officials said.

This includes, but is not limited, to university vehicles, dining halls, TigerTransit buses, conference rooms, office buildings, elevators and parking structures.

People are not required to wear a face covering outdoors if they are able to maintain physical distancing of at least 6 feet from others — with the exception of members of their household/suitemates.

The university said more than 40 faculty and staff working groups studied the health, safety, academic and operational concerns that informed the school’s decision-making for the 2020-21 year.

“New Jersey is reopening carefully and responsibly,” Eisgruber said in his message. “Both state law and public health guidance significantly restrict our options for the fall.”

Eisgruber also emphasized all plans are subject to change — in either direction.

“The university will continue to reevaluate its plans in the months ahead,” he said. “If developments allow, we will invite back more students in the spring. Unfortunately, it is also possible that matters will get worse. If so, we may have to send students home in the fall or reduce the size of the anticipated campus population in the spring.”

University officials said reducing density on campus is a critical component of Princeton’s plan, which will strive to accommodate students who are pursuing certain kinds of academic research or leading cocurricular programs that require them to be on campus in specific semesters.

The plans include robust cleaning protocols and appropriate health monitoring, including regular COVID-19 testing of students on campus.

Eisgruber told the students he welcomes their return during a most unusual time.

“To our students, I look forward to having you back on our campus when you can come,” he said in the message. “To all of you, I look forward to collaborating with you and supporting you as we pursue our teaching and research mission energetically, imaginatively, and passionately in the face of one of the greatest challenges ever to confront our university.”

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