In Wave 3 of our National Student Study, we surveyed 927 incoming college freshmen and 905 returning students living in the U.S, in order to understand how their opinions of COVID have changed from previous waves in March and April. We also wanted to learn about their preferences regarding instruction scenarios, their current fall plans, and their opinions on planned safety precautions when/if they return to campus; as well as garnering a better understanding of their fears about COVID-19 and the level of confidence they have in their institutions.
Although deadlines have passed and deposits have been made, students are much more uncertain about their college decisions now than they were in the spring. Schools are counting these students as part of their incoming class, but almost half of them indicate that they may not attend.
50% of students planning to attend a private school say they are likely/highly likely to change their mind, compared to 32% of students planning to attend a public school. Cost may be a factor here, given the current discussion around virtual learning and its effect on cost-to-value ratio in more expensive schools.
Perceptions about institutions’ COVID-19 responses have shifted over time. In March and April, college students had a generally positive view of the communications they were receiving from their school about COVID-19. (In March, 73% of students rated their institution’s COVID-19 communications as good/excellent, and in April this increased to 80%.) In July, the good/excellent ratings have dropped to 60%, with 69% of returning students stating that they want more information from their school about reopening plans. Only 3% say they want to receive less information from their school.
It is exceedingly rare for students to express a desire for more communication from their institutions, but it is equally important to understand how significant an impact effective communication has on brand trust in the long term. Ensure your communications aren't short-lived by making them easy to find and reference later, such as an FAQ page on your site, or a searchable database of answers to common questions.
Students whose school is NOT planning to reopen for full-time in-person instruction in the fall have more positive perceptions of how their school is handling the pandemic than students whose school IS opening. In addition, schools who have opted to reopen have a greater number of students reporting that their opinion of the school has deteriorated since the outbreak of COVID-19.
We began to observe this general trend in March and April, and we warned that institutions’ decisions and communications regarding COVID-19 over the summer months would play a large role in whether their reputations would suffer long term. Students expect that, if their school does reopen, it will provide a safe environment – and if that isn’t perceived to be the case, institutions could see lasting brand damage.
More and more students are embracing the idea of remote instruction. 41% of returning students want to go back to campus but take a mixture of online and in-person classes (a hybrid model), 30% want to stay home and take all classes online, and only 17% express a desire to return to full-time in-person instruction. These findings are in spite of the fact that, in March and April, students reported that the quality of the online instruction they were receiving was worse than the in-person instruction they received on campus.
Those students who would prefer to stay home and take classes online report higher anxiety over contracting COVID-19 when they return to campus, and feel less safe about living in residence halls.
For incoming freshmen, the results are also skewed in favor of online instruction; with a 39% majority stating that they want to stay home and take all of their classes online, and 30% preferring to attend campus but take some classes online and some in person. (Note that these results are reversed compared to returning students, with 30% of returning students indicating a preference for online-only instruction and a majority 41% preferring a hybrid model.)
Again, only 17% of incoming freshmen expressed a desire for full-time in-person instruction.
Media Coverage of our National Student Studies
Our team was curious about the break down of fall 2020 college and university reopening plans. What does it look like when segmented by geography, enrollment size, and institution type? We spun up this dashboard to find out.View Dashboard