The COVID-19 pandemic forced colleges around the country to move to remote instruction for the remainder of the spring semester, although many schools are now planning to reopen for the fall. According to a recent ValuePenguin survey of more than 1,050 full-time college students, 31% of students said they would not feel safe at all returning to their campuses for the upcoming semester.
We conducted this survey to better understand college students' feelings about potentially returning to campus and the health implications of reopening schools. The data we have gathered gives a better look into the thoughts and concerns students have with returning to campus during this pandemic.
With the uncertainty surrounding the virus, students are doubtful their school's health facilities can provide proper care and treatment if they contract COVID-19. About 11% of respondents said their school's health facility had misdiagnosed them at some point in the past.
More than half of all students returning for the fall semester are worried about their peers' ability to follow social distancing guidelines and practice healthy habits. Over a third of students are afraid that returning to campus will expose them to the virus.
- More than 1 in 5 college students do not trust their school's on-campus health facility to provide quality care, and 11% have been misdiagnosed.
- 31% of students said they would not feel safe at all returning to campus for the fall semester. Male students feel safer about going back to school than female students.
- Most students are worried about their peers' ability to follow social distancing guidelines and practice healthy habits. A third of students don't trust their fellow classmates at all in this regard, and another half just somewhat trust them.
- 36% of college students are "very worried" about contracting the coronavirus if they return to campus. Older students are more anxious than younger students.
- Many students are suffering from loneliness amid the pandemic, as 21% reported feeling lonely almost all of the time over the last two months, and 28% about half the time. Women have felt more lonely than men.
Students worry about their ability to find quality care should they get sick at school
In the event their school chooses to reopen their campus for the fall semester, college students are doubtful their institution will have the ability to provide quality care. Students worry that if they fall ill on campus, they will not receive the treatment required to make an efficient recovery.
In fact, more than 1 in 5 college students do not trust their school's on-campus health facility to provide quality care. Overall, just 22% completely trust their campus health facility, while 57% only somewhat trust it.
The lack of trust in school health facilities could be partly attributed to misdiagnoses. Our data shows that 11% of current college students have been misdiagnosed by their school's on-campus health facility at some point in the past. This includes a whopping 22% of students who attend school in New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut).
In addition to lackluster health services from their school, students may have issues trying to receive off-campus medical coverage. As much as 12% of students have an insurance policy covered by their school, so it may be difficult for them to seek appropriate care for their needs.
More than half of all students are covered by their parents' insurance policy, and they may also face challenges in finding suitable and affordable care on campus. Students are concerned that returning to campus may actually restrict the level of care they can receive in the case of contracting COVID-19.
College students face safety concerns about returning to campus
Returning to campus poses many risks to students who need to return for their education, and college students feel strongly about the safety concerns surrounding reopening campuses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than a third of all college students are very concerned about possibly contracting the coronavirus if they return to campus. Unsurprisingly, 31% of students said they would not feel safe at all returning to campus for the fall semester. Of the students comfortable with returning to school, male students feel safer about going back than female students.
However, it seems that most students are worried about their peers' ability to follow social distancing guidelines and practice healthy habits. About 34% of students don't trust their fellow classmates at all in this regard, and another 54% only somewhat trust them. The data shows that female students trust their classmates less than male students.
When it comes to living with a roommate, students have mixed feelings. 31% would feel comfortable rooming with someone else this fall, but 27% would not, and another 23% said it depends on other factors.
Less than a quarter of dorm residents feel completely safe about living in a dorm amid the pandemic. Male students feel safer about this than females. This issue stems from shared doubts in the schools' health facilities and their peers' ability to follow the proper guidelines to combat this pandemic.
Despite the obvious risks of reopening campuses, students feel that there are also downsides to keeping campuses closed. 27% of college students — especially those from out of state — are worried about finding housing for the fall semester. Because housing departments need to accommodate new health guidelines, there will be fewer available spots for students to live. Off-campus housing can be expensive, especially in certain areas, and living off-campus can further isolate students.
Furthermore, students are feeling lonelier than ever during this pandemic. Our data shows that 21% of students have reported feeling lonely almost all of the time in the previous two months. With social distancing guidelines and lengthy quarantines in place, students feel disconnected from their peers and friends due to their inability to interact in person.
Lack of communication creates confusion for students
The high levels of uncertainty surrounding the near future could be contributing to a lot of the stress students feel about returning to school. Not only are many feeling left in the dark by their school's lack of communication, but a significant amount don't know what coverage they'd receive from their insurance, making the prospect of getting sick even more daunting.
Nearly a third of college students said they haven't received enough coronavirus-related communication from their school. They're receiving vague responses from their school administrations and often have more questions than answers regarding what to expect once schools open.
Students also lack clarity about coronavirus-related insurance coverage. Only 29% of college students said they understand what is and is not covered under their health insurance as it relates to the coronavirus.
Advice for college students
Students who return to campus for the fall semester should follow all social-distancing and health guidelines to minimize the chances of contracting the coronavirus. Although it may be tempting to reunite with friends or attend a party, the risks it poses to yourself and others isn't worth the hassle.
If you get sick while on campus, it's important to use all resources at your disposal to receive quality care. Get to know your insurance policy and what it covers, and look for health facilities in your college town that can best help you.
ValuePenguin commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,050 full-time college students. The survey was fielded July 17–21, 2020.