Kevin Morrison discusses study away semester balance, fall uncertainty

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Old Main. Photo by Celia Johnson ’22.

Ian Witry, Associate News Editor

Since last semester, the Center for Study Away (CSA) has been reviewing students’ applications to study away during the 2021-2022 academic year. At the same time, the spread of COVID-19 threatens study away plans indefinitely — and the probability that fall 2021 programs move ahead remains especially uncertain. 

On Jan. 21, CSA director Kevin Morrison notified students of their study away application decisions for next year. Of the 407 students approved to study away, 64% applied for spring 2022, while only 36% applied for fall 2021. As a result, 47 students who applied for the spring were instead approved for the fall in order to balance participation between fall and spring. 

Morrison explained why Macalester strives for this semester balance.

“It’s about managing enrollment,” he said. “It’s about making sure that we’re making the best use of our campus resources… If, all of the sudden, two-thirds of our upper-level students are gone, then that really impacts the ability of departments to offer upper-level courses that would attract a sufficient number of students.”

This uneven semester distribution occurs almost every year — in 2014, 62% of students applied for the spring. 

“When we’re talking about percentages… I would say this is a fairly typical year,” Morrison said. 

To determine which students to grant their spring semester preference, the Study Away Review Committee (SARC) wrote in an email to students who had their semesters changed that they “considered scheduling of academic requirements for majors and minors, commitments to varsity athletics, and the need to complete program prerequisites as primary factors.” 

Morrison said that the SARC also accommodated students who wished to celebrate religious holidays in the fall with the campus community or with their families. 

After receiving the CSA’s semester decision, 13 students submitted appeals to Director of Academic Programs Ann Minnick and Provost Karine Moe to have their semesters switched. 

Morrison said the appealing students presented information regarding the aforementioned factors for granting semester preference that they hadn’t presented in their applications, or they indicated classes they wish to take at their study away destination that are not offered during their approved semester. 

In a later email, Morrison wrote that “medical information that wasn’t available at the time of application” also came into play. 

All 13 appeals were accepted. 

Ezra Kline ’23 was one of the students the SARC switched from spring to fall. He decided not to appeal to switch back to the spring after realizing that a required course for his major is only offered at Macalester during the spring. 

While acknowledging that it might be difficult, Kline suggested that the CSA could notify students earlier about potential semester switches. 

“Some preliminary, ‘Hey, we’ve got a lot of applications for the spring, so we may have to move [some students],’” Kline said. 

For other students, such as Eleanor Grinnell ’23, the SARC granted their spring semester preference. Grinnell decided to take a gap year this year in order to be able to live on campus and study away during her junior year. She said she had a smooth experience with the CSA. 

“Everything went the way I wanted it to,” she said. “I got approved for spring right away.” 

Although the SARC has balanced study away semester approval, whether students will be able to study away in the fall remains uncertain due to COVID-19. Still, in an email to students approved for the fall, Morrison expressed hope. 

“We remain cautiously optimistic and encourage you to take the next steps needed to study away,” he wrote. 

Whether or not study away programs will move ahead depends on criteria listed on the CSA’s COVID-19 webpage.

“While those criteria are still being determined, they may include conditions in the study away destination, participating students’ ability to meet entry requirements or Macalester determined requirements (e.g. vaccinations, negative COVID tests prior to departure, isolation upon arrival), etc.,” the webpage reads. 

If some or all fall 2021 programs are cancelled, many students will have to request to change their semester to the spring in order to study away next year. Morrison expressed uncertainty about whether all of these requests would be approved. 

“That’s a piece that we’re gonna have to navigate on a case-by-case basis as things move through,” he said. “We certainly want to make sure that students [for whom] spring is their last chance [to study away]… get priority over other students who might still have a series of semesters to be able to study away.” 

Morrison emphasized that the number of students unable to study away in the fall will determine how many of these requests would be approved. 

“Ideally, we would be able to accommodate everyone,” he said. “But, without knowing what those numbers are, I can’t make any promises.” 

“While in the back of our heads we probably are thinking of various scenarios, until something becomes a reality, we can’t really make a decision about it,” Morrison said.  

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