New survey shows students optimistic about pandemic end, but worried about economic prospects and university’s value


A new national online survey shows that after battling the Covid-19 pandemic for more than a year, a majority of students feel optimistic about the course of the disease, but many are also worried about their own economic future and are increasingly skeptical. on the value of higher education in general.

These are some of the main takeaways from One year later: impact of COVID-19 on current and future students, which summarizes a nationally representative survey conducted between April 29 and May 13, 2021 by think tanks New America and Third way in partnership with Global Strategy Group, a public relations and research firm.

The survey was the third that the groups commissioned in the past year to assess how students have responded to the pandemic and their opinions on how colleges have handled it. It collected responses from 1,002 students nationwide, including samples from 242 nursing students, 269 black students, and 325 Latinx students. The survey also included 200 other high school students.

Students get vaccinated, think the worst of the pandemic is over

More than half – 53% – of college students think the worst of the pandemic is over, but black (38%) and Latinx (48%) students are less confident than others in this belief. Students also said they were less worried about catching Covid-19 and spreading it to others than they were in a December survey.

About half of respondents said they had received at least one dose of a vaccine at the time of the survey, although the rate was lower for student helpers (40%) and black students (29%).

More encouraging is the finding that 77% of students said they would take the vaccine if they had to go to school in the fall, up 9 percentage points from December. Among high school students, this rate was 79%. Although black students and caregivers said they would receive the vaccine at lower rates in December (49% and 54% respectively), those rates had increased to 65% for black students and 64% for student caregivers. in the May survey.

Students believe their institutions have responded well to the pandemic

A strong majority (72%) of students agreed that “the way my institution handled the pandemic over the past semester made me trust its leadership more.” Helping students, black students, and Latinxes all tended to approve of this position at equally high levels.

Overall, 81% of students gave their college credit for handling the pandemic the best they could (up from 76% in December), 79% gave them credit for having communicated clearly since start of the pandemic and 79% thought their facilities were okay. -equipped to face future emergencies (79%).

Shelbe Klebs, Third Way policy advisor and one of the report’s authors, noted that the overall effectiveness of institutional responses to the pandemic has helped students maintain a sense of optimism: “Despite the continuing concerns of students regarding the post-COVID economy, they are still optimistic that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and that their institutions have handled it well. And students think their degrees have value – 66% say their institution offers a good return on investment and 75% think their degree will be worth the same as that obtained before the pandemic. “

One area where students continued to voice concerns was the backbone of online education. More than half (56%) fear their degree might be less valuable because it was online, and 65% of high school students heading to college expressed a similar concern.

Most students now have at least a semester of experience with online classes or a mix of online and in-person classes, a story that hasn’t relieved them of their negative view of online education.

Students lack confidence in the economy and they lose confidence in the value of college in general

As Klebs’ comment above suggests, when it comes to the country’s economy, students are suspicious. Only 26% think the economy is improving, while 33% think it is getting worse. And when it comes to their personal financial situation over the next few months, almost half (47%) say they feel uncomfortable.

This pessimism is linked to another observation that higher education institutions have to face. As the pandemic progressed, student doubts about the value of a college degree grew. Almost two-thirds (65%) now believe that higher education is no longer worth the cost, an increase from 57% in December and 49% in August.

Worries about the economy mean that students are concerned about their own personal finances. Two-thirds say they are worried about being able to pay their school fees, and 62% are worried about their non-education bills. This is even more true among caregivers: 76% are concerned about paying tuition fees and 80% are concerned about meeting non-educational obligations. In addition, nearly 80% of students are concerned about their employment prospects after graduation.

Implications for the future

Of current college students, 85% indicated they are likely to re-enroll in their current college for the next fall semester. However, 18% revealed that due to the pandemic they would definitely need more time to graduate. Among student assistants and Latinx students, 24% and 28%, respectively, said they definitely needed more time to graduate.

Among high school students, 60% said the pandemic had made no difference in their plans to enroll in college; 18% said the pandemic made them less likely to enroll.

Respondents were also asked for their views on various federal policies aimed at strengthening higher education. Unsurprisingly, nearly half (47%) would prioritize policies that could make higher education more affordable, and 32% wanted to prioritize policies that ease student loan repayment burdens for borrowers. About one in ten (13%) would prioritize measures that strengthen accountability in colleges and universities.

As is often the case, the survey paints a picture of good news and bad news about the impact of the pandemic. The good news? Students are optimistic that the pandemic is over and that their colleges will respond well to any future challenges, just as they have throughout the crisis. The bad news? It appears that the pandemic has eroded students’ confidence in the future of the economy and weakened their belief in the value of online education and higher education in general.

Colleges now face the dual task of maintaining student confidence that a return to something resembling normal campus experiences is within reach, while reinforcing their belief that a college degree is in demand. both affordable and valuable.


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