May 13, 2020 - Economy

College students would attend class in fall even without vaccine

Illustration of a tissue box with ruled paper coming out instead of tissues.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly two thirds of college students say they would attend in-person classes if colleges reopen in the fall, even if there is no coronavirus vaccine or cure, according to a new College Reaction poll.

Why it matters: The findings suggest that even when faced with the prospect of packed-in lecture halls without a vaccine, most students want to get back to their classes and have an actual college experience, not a virtual one.

  • That could be good news for the financial survival of colleges and universities, but a huge challenge from a public health perspective, since there's sure to be a continued need for some level of social distancing to keep virus caseloads from spiking again.

By the numbers:

  • 65% say they would attend in-person classes.
  • 31% say they would only attend virtually.
  • 4% say they would withdraw from school.

Between the lines: The desire to attend classes in person comes as students report that the virtual education experience is full of pitfalls: 45% say they attend class less often and more than 70% say they're distracted by their phone, computer and things going on at home.

The catch: The college experience isn't exactly about sheltering in place and keeping six feet away from people, so college administrators will have to solve the public health challenges if they expect to bring students back.

  • That's probably going to require lots of virus testing as well as other solutions, like holding large lecture classes online, only admitting smaller numbers of students to the campus and banning social gatherings above a certain size, Axios' Erica Pandey reports.
  • And even with testing and tracing, it’ll be difficult for administrators to get thousands of 18 to 22-year-olds to keep to themselves and not throw any parties.

The U.S. jobs collapse has coincided with school getting out for the summer, and students are reckoning with rescinded full-time offers, postponed start dates and in some fortunate cases, virtual internships.

  • 27% of students in the College Reaction poll say they have a full-time job this summer, while 23% say they have a part-time job.
  • Many other students are taking up volunteer work for their neighborhood or city or otherwise picking up new skills, Christine Cruzvergara, VP of higher education and student success at Handshake, a company that connects students to employers, tells Axios.

The industries that are actively hiring, according to Cruzvergara: education, health care, government, non-profit and technology.

  • The categories with the steepest declines: Hospitality, food and beverage, and arts and entertainment.

The bottom line: Most college students are ready to take their chances and return to campus — another sign that Americans' tolerance of social distancing is not going to last forever.

Methodology: The poll was conducted May 8-10 from a representative sample of 835 college students with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

College Reaction’s polling is conducted using a demographically representative panel of college students from around the country. The surveys are administered digitally and use college e-mail addresses as an authentication tool to ensure current enrollment in a four-year institution. The target for the general population sample was students currently enrolled in accredited 4-year institutions in the United States.

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