Student Interaction Complicates Return to Campus

More

UPDATED: 5/25/20 – 12:37 P.M.

ENFIELD, NY (WSKG) – Officials at colleges and universities have to figure out how to reduce the chance of a COVID-19 outbreak on their campus.

Research by two Cornell sociologists analyzed class registration information and found that it only takes three steps for 92 percent of student pairs to reach each other.*

“What we found on Cornell campus is really three degrees of separation,” said Kim Weeden, a Professor of Sociology at Cornell. Weeden, along with colleague Benjamin Cornwell, conducted the research.

Image provided

Gray boxes are courses; Large courses outlined in red. Circles are undergraduates by majors: orange = STEM; blue = social sciences; yellow = humanities; red multi-disciplinary/mixed; green = unclared. 13,594 students and 3,797 classes. Data from Cornell Spring 2015 (Provided from Weeden and Cornwell, “Small world network of college classes.” A working paper.

They also found that the tight connections between students can be reduced.

“If you move classes that have more than 30 students online instead of 92 percent of students being connected within three degrees of separation you get that down to 21 percent being connected,” Weeden explained.

The pair also looked a registration information from a small college, too. The degree of contact was the same.

However, the research only looked at class registrations and there’s a lot more to campus life.

“In some sense, the thornier problem is the residence halls, the social life, even the transitions that occur between classes or the use of the coffee shop or the bathroom in between courses or on the quads,” Weeden said.

Ithaca College and Binghamton University recently announced plans to return to campus for the fall semester.

*This article was corrected to properly reflect that 92 percent of student pairs are connected are connected through three, not two steps.