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MIT announces only seniors will return to campus this fall

Pedestrians walked past the Maclaurin Building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus.
Pedestrians walked past the Maclaurin Building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus.Scott Eisen/Bloomberg News

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will invite only seniors to return to campus in the fall and will allow only those students who live in the dormitories to participate in face-to-face classes, the university said on Tuesday.

The university will grant a small group of additional undergraduates who have no other housing options to come to campus in the fall. But MIT said it hopes to bring the first-year students, sophomores, and juniors to campus in the spring, and send seniors back home.

“As a matter of equity, we believe it is important, in this academic year, to enable every student to spend at least one term on campus,” MIT president L. Rafael Reif said in a letter announcing the fall semester plans. “Yet however sound and careful our process, I know these decisions come with a real human cost. They will require all of us, especially our students, to adjust to a new set of hard realities — coming on top of a long season of COVID-driven disruption and dislocation.”

Reif said seniors were given priority for the fall because they have to finish research projects and theses to graduate on time.

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Like many higher education institutions, MIT will not reduce its tuition costs, even though many of its courses will be taught online, the university said.

However, MIT has backed off its plan to raise tuition by 3.8 percent this upcoming academic year. The university will also give all undergraduates a $5,000 coronavirus grant to offset costs and will offer students an on-campus or remote paid research or teaching opportunity, which will help them earn a $1,900 stipend. Financial aid for students living off campus will assume a room-and-board cost of $4,000, which should help increase the awards to students, the university said.

MIT is also requiring students living in the dormitories to participate in a university meal plan and barring the use of communal kitchens, which have long been part of the campus food culture. The university said it would subsidize the cost of the meal plans by 40 percent.

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News of MIT’s plan came as schools around the country scramble to decide whether to bring students back to campus in the fall amid a still-raging coronavirus pandemic. The MIT plan comes a day after Harvard said that its classes would be fully remote in the fall, with only 40 percent of students physically returning to campus. Only first-year students and undergraduates specifically invited for academic reasons will be allowed on campus and housed in single-person dorm rooms, Harvard said.

On Tuesday, Brown University also said that it would bring back only a portion of its undergraduates this fall to ensure that students can be housed in single rooms. Brown has adopted a three-term academic calendar with classes in fall, spring, and summer. Sophomore, juniors, and seniors would return in the fall and first-year students would come to campus in the spring and continue through the summer term. All classes with more than 20 students will be taught remotely, Brown said.

“Although I am deeply disappointed that we can’t 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,” Christina H. Paxson, Brown’s president, said in a statement. “We hope that by the time the spring term begins, the public health situation will have improved enough that we no longer need a de-densified campus.”

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Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe. Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.