Brown University will have trimester schedule as part of reopening plan

BROWN UNIVERSITY's reopening plan for the fall includes altering its academic schedule to operate on a trimester system that limits the number of students on campus at one time. / PBN PHOTO/JAMES BESSETTE
BROWN UNIVERSITY's reopening plan for the fall includes altering its academic schedule to operate on a trimester system that limits the number of students on campus at one time. / PBN PHOTO/JAMES BESSETTE

PROVIDENCE Brown University’s plan to reopen its campus for the fall includes a unique modification to its academic calendar in order to limit the number of students on campus at a time.

The Ivy League university’s announcement of its plans Tuesday comes as other local colleges continue to outline their plans and protocols to bring students back on campus after closing in-person learning back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Brown President Christina H. Paxson in late April wrote an op-ed in The New York Times stating that colleges reopening in the fall should be a priority.

Brown’s planned academic calendar is a significant alteration. While most other colleges are planning to remain with a two-semester setup, Brown will operate on a trimester schedule – fall, spring and summer – for the 2020-21 academic year with students at certain grade levels attending specific trimesters.

  • First-year students will attend classes in the spring (Jan. 20, 2021 through April 23, 2021; remote-learning period starting April 12, 2021) and summer (May 12, 2021 through Aug 13; remote-learning period starting Aug. 2) trimesters only. But, first-year students can take a single free online class during the fall for credit.
  • Junior and senior students will attend the fall (Sept. 9 through Dec. 11; remote-learning period starting Nov. 30) and spring trimesters only.
  • Sophomores will be attending all three trimesters, with these students possibly attending either the fall and spring trimesters or the fall and summer trimesters if public-health conditions worsen during the fall.

While Brown will offer classes with a variety of in-person instruction, online only and a hybrid model, classes with more than 20 students will be online only and in-person class capacity will be maxed at 20 students, Brown said. The university also said all students will have the option to take courses virtually this year, whether they are on campus or not.

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Normally, Brown would have approximately 6,800 students on campus, the university said. However, the school said that about 10% will be unable to be on campus due to various travel restrictions, and said that the three-term set up will allow roughly 4,600 on campus during the fall. This will allow the campus to reopen safely and consistent with health guidelines, the university said.

“Although I am deeply disappointed that we cannot welcome our first-year students to campus in the fall, we simply don’t think that it is safe to have all undergraduates on campus simultaneously,” Paxson said in a letter to the campus community. Paxson also hopes that the health situation improves by the spring so that a de-densified campus is no longer needed.

Regarding COVID-19 testing, all Brown students returning to campus will be required to be tested, participate in random testing and some students may need additional testing if they are coming to Rhode Island from virus “hot spots.” All testing will be conducted free of charge, Brown said.

Even though final plans need to be determined over the course of the summer, Brown said its housing plan will limit students to single rooms and utilizing only about have the available residential capacity on campus in the fall in terms of number of beds. Brown said it will potentially identify additional housing options in either hotels or nearby apartments and it will set aside rooms on campus to quarantine or isolate students as needed.

Brown also said it will purchase needed personal protective equipment, including masks – which will be required on campus – to distribute to all students, faculty and staff.

Read Brown’s full reopening plan here.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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