Student survey offers insight on instruction, vaccines

A strong majority say their colleges should not be having in-person learning now; many are ready to be vaccinated.
By: | March 31, 2021
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Colleges and universities have stressed the importance of prioritizing students during the pandemic by providing more remote instruction, increased support services and measures to ensure safety of those within their communities.

But have they really been meeting student needs? A new report from BestColleges.com that surveyed more than 700 students offers some unique takeaways.

Even with vaccines on the horizon and the promises from leaders of more traditional campus environments in the fall, nearly 70% of students say their colleges should not currently have face-to-face instruction, and more than 40% believe their campuses should not be open at all.

Concerns over COVID-19 variants and safety are still front of mind for many, especially underserved and first-generation students. Only about half of students polled felt their school’s approach to COVID-19 safety precautions has been appropriate.

Of course, much can change over the next few months as vaccines are dispensed. Although there was reluctance from younger populations to receive vaccines and less concern about the impacts of COVID-19 early on, 55% of those who took part in the BestColleges study, conducted in late February and early March, said they plan to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Could it be that colleges are underestimating the true impact the pandemic is having on students and simply forging ahead behind mission statements and a positive look to the future? A third of students surveyed said that changes done in this crisis moment will have a lasting impact on their mental health, and more than 40% said they’ve been disappointed with the education they’ve received during the past year.

“It’s overwhelming to think about the number of unique challenges college students are facing during the pandemic,” said Melissa Venable, Education Advisor for BestColleges.com. “Barriers to social interaction and adjustments to digital instruction have redefined the current college experience.”

Other takeaways

While many institutions have made measurable strides in addressing student needs, the changes they’ve made will determine their success in the future – positive or negative – according to more than 90% of those in the study.

Providing some form of online instruction seems to resonate with them. Though many want the social aspects that come in a return to campus, only 39% said “attending class in person was an important part of their on-campus college experience.” (Making friends and meeting romantic partners scored 40%, for example.) More than half of students said the option to attend classes virtually should be maintained even after the pandemic ends.

No surprise, nearly two-thirds said they’ve further relied on technology since the pandemic started although barriers to learning still exist in engaging students online, with 50% saying they’ve experienced some challenges over the past year. Some of that could be due to the effects of changes in their personal lives, as students expressed less interaction with classmates and their instructors.

A couple of cringeworthy statistics from the survey for institution leaders to consider:

  • 24% of students said “pandemic-related circumstances” would prevent completion of their degrees
  • 49% indicated that they would have considered a different college, a gap year or a less expensive school had they truly understood how their learning and campus experience would be affected this year
  • 42% said their colleges aren’t doing enough to support them – with finances, transportation and technology needs.

“Institutions would do well to consider honest feedback from students as they continue to refine the changes they had to make quickly at the start of the pandemic,” Venable said.