About seven of every 10 college students support a required COVID-19 vaccine for in-person classes. That’s according to a new survey, conducted by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse and presented by Kaplan. The survey, which polled more than 2,000 college students in the U.S. found that 69% of respondents were in support of colleges requiring students to be vaccinated if they want to attend in-person classes this fall. Just 24% of polled students opposed a vaccine mandate, with 7% reporting that they don’t know.
The survey results were released as a number of colleges and universities announced required COVID-19 vaccination for students and employees as they prepare for a return to campus in Fall 2021. As of June 28, nearly 550 colleges will require COVID-19 vaccines for at least some students or employees, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“As colleges grapple with campus reopenings, these results provide firsthand, data-driven insights that can inform the decisions that university administrators make around issues that directly impact their students,” says Isaac Botier, executive director of college admissions programs at Kaplan. “These results tell us that college students are eager for a return to normalcy. They miss their friends. They miss campus life. They miss meeting in person with their teachers for office hours. While online education has worked well for many colleges and universities, its deployment and quality of delivery was inconsistent at best, and not all college students were equally as pleased with it. For the most part, college students are ready to go back to doing the thing they like most in the ways they enjoy most.”
STUDENTS ARE ‘ZOOMED’ OUT
For students eager for a return to normalcy, vaccine mandates are a good sign that the Fall semester will be somewhat normal. Experts say that elements of online learning may be incorporated into the curriculum, but for the most part, things will be back to normal on campus.
“From all that we’re seeing, we think Fall 2021 will show real signs of normalcy, with in-person learning the main setting in which most college students will learn,” Botier says. “We expect some colleges to have a hybrid approach, but if given the choice, we think most students will pounce at the opportunity to once again sit in a lecture hall or classroom and learn with their peers.”
According to Botier, students are likely ‘Zoomed’ out from the past year. If given the opportunity to return to campus, many students see vaccine mandates as the best path to a return to normalcy. But that doesn’t necessarily mean goodbye to Zoom.
“Over the past year, many colleges and universities had to make massive and quick investments in online learning technology, which may be incorporated into the curriculum moving forward,” Botier says. “Might this even eliminate snow days in colder climates if students can learn from the comfort of their dorm rooms or homes? While we hate to say there was any silver lining from the pandemic, it did inspire colleges and universities to think more strategically and accelerated the adoption of technology in education. And if need be, they’ll be better prepared for any additional challenges.”
DEEP PARTISAN DIVIDES
The survey data also revealed some deep partisan divides when it comes to getting vaccinated and supporting a vaccination mandate. Some 90% of students self-identifying as Democratic or Democratic-leaning said they support a vaccine mandate. Meanwhile, just 37% of Republican or Republican-leaning voters said they support a vaccine mandate. Among self-identifying Independent voters, 63% were in support of a required vaccination.
Interestingly, 85% of respondents said they’ve already been vaccinated or plan to get vaccinated. According to The New York Times database, just 46% of the entire U.S. population has been fully vaccinated. Of those 18 and older, the fully vaccinated rate jumps to 57%. However, the 18 to 29-year-old vaccination rate is currently less than 40%.
THE NEW NORMAL
Like nearly every industry, higher education has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic — from faculty layoffs to program cuts.
“Every sector of the American economy and cultural landscape has been impacted by COVID-19 and the higher education landscape is no different,” Botier says. “In fact, college and universities may have even been impacted as severely as the service and travel industries. From the loss of faculty jobs, to the loss of students, to tighter budgets, to education delivery.”
Colleges will likely seize on the opportunity to return in-person courses, especially when it comes to things like recruitment.
“For many of them, in-person college fairs have been a big way for them to scout for new students,” Botier says. “For the past year and half, that’s not been possible. Many have had to rely solely on digital outreach. And while many big colleges and universities saw huge application gains, after a year that saw lower enrollment, colleges are going to want to give things the personal touch this year to really woo accepted students and future applicants.”
Botier expects that Fall 2021 will look, for the most part, normal. But he doesn’t go so far as to say that things will look exactly as they did pre-March 2020.
“For undergraduate business school students, we know the looming end of the pandemic will be great for their internship opportunities,” Botier says. “In-person experiences were largely tabled over the past year, but we can expect to see a surge of openings later this fall and next year. Expect to see a lot of virtual opportunities too. And for those looking to attend business school and grad school, they will have the option to take both the GRE and GMAT exams at home. Pre-pandemic, these versions of the test did not even exist. It may not be a whole new world, but expect some lasting changes.”