Still a small world? Course enrollment networks before and during the Covid-19 pandemic

Mon, Nov 30, 2020, 12:00 pm
Virtual Only – Zoom Link Forthcoming

Photo of Kim Weeden

Kim Weeden, Ph.D
Jan Rock Zubrow ’77 Professor of the Social Sciences
Director of the Center for the Study of Inequality

Kim Weeden, Ben Cornwell, and Barum Park

In normal times, the network ties that connect students to each other on a college campus are an asset. During a pandemic, they can become a liability. Using pre-pandemic data from Cornell University, Weeden and Cornwell showed how one type of tie, enrollment in classes, creates a classic “small world” network with high clustering, short path lengths, few degrees of separation, and multiple independent pathways connecting students. In this update, we show how the structure of the enrollment network changed as Cornell, like many US institutions, shifted to a hybrid model of instruction in response to the pandemic. Under this hybrid model, half of students took all of their classes online. Among the network of students enrolled in at least one in-person class, paths connecting students lengthened, clusters became more local, and the share of student pairs connected by three or fewer degrees of separation declined. For better or for worse, the small world grew.