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Student withdrawals, leaves of absence from Rutgers fluctuate amid pandemic

The number of students withdrawing or taking a leave of absence from the University increased in fall 2020 but decreased this semester. – Photo by Wikimedia.org

Rutgers—New Brunswick has seen a fluctuation in student leaves of absence and withdrawals throughout the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, said Juli Hibbard, who is in charge of undergraduates at the University's Registrar's Office.

In the Spring 2020 semester, a total of 246 students withdrew or took a leave of absence from the University, with 204 being undergraduates and 42 being graduate students, she said. But in the Fall 2020 semester, a total of 497 students withdrew or took a leave of absence, with 427 being undergraduates and 70 being graduate students.

And as of yesterday, 252 students have withdrawn or taken a leave of absence during the Spring 2021 semester, with 211 being undergraduates and 41 being graduate students, she said. Monday was the last day to withdraw or take a leave of absence.

“It looks like we were at our lowest during the start of the pandemic,” Hibbard said. “The fall 2020 numbers were higher, but that could be due to the late (Pass/No Credit) policy announcement, so some students could have withdrawn prior to the announcement being made. Our numbers seem to be relatively small for this semester as well.”

These numbers can be compared to higher pre-pandemic numbers from the Spring 2019 semester, which she said totaled 338 students, with 291 being undergraduates and 47 being graduates.

In terms of individual schools, Mandy Feiler, dean of students at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, said the school has seen an increase in the number of students taking leaves of absence in the current school year, but most of them are still in the program.

She said Mason Gross has removed its usual requirements to submit re-enrollment applications and additional talent assessments, such as auditions and portfolios, in order to ease their return.

“Our faculty have doubled down on creating a nurturing, dynamic learning environment despite the obvious challenges,” Feiler said. “As our students ease back to life on campus, we hope their return will spark fresh creativity, inspiration and engagement in their respective areas.”

Julie Traxler, associate dean for academic programs at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, said the school has also seen an increase in students taking leaves of absence but not as much as expected.

She said this is because many chose to adopt a part-time student status instead of withdrawing completely. She hopes that the students who did take leaves of absence come back without feeling that they have fallen behind or that they should not have left.

“There's real value to working for a while, or childcare, or helping the family,” Traxler said. “(For) a lot of our students ... this isn't how they planned this. But that's how this works. That's how life works, and what I would recommend they do is to come back in, resume as if nothing had happened and then work with an advisor to figure out where maybe they need to pick up.”

Kylie Chua, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, said she was recommended to take a leave of absence but chose to remain enrolled. She said the school provided her with tools such as referrals, an on-campus team and check-ins to see how she was doing.

But professors are not required to accommodate students like her, which she said is an issue.

“It’s (really) up to the professor and whether they are willing to be lenient,” Chau said. “It’s different from (high school), where your guidance counselor says ‘do this,’ and the teacher does it, so you really (have) to be lucky ... with your professors because not everyone is willing to accommodate.”

Midhat Alvi, a Middlesex County College student, withdrew from Rutgers for the Spring and Fall 2021 semesters. She said she transferred temporarily because she felt the costs of attending Rutgers were too high for an incomplete college experience.

“The School of Engineering was very helpful and understanding in that regard,” she said. “They helped me throughout the process and even helped ensure all my courses would transfer over when I do end up coming back.”

Traxler said she has worked with many students who returned after a leave of absence, and they ultimately were able to finish their education.

“I often say to students, ‘Rutgers has been around a really long time, so we will be here, and we'll be here to welcome you back,’” she said. “So if you need to take that time, take it, and then, plan to come back and finish. We want to get you to the finish line.”


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