College students give failing grade on return to campus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

College students are learning less, partying less and a majority say the decision to return to campus was a bad decision, according to a new College Reaction/Axios poll.

Why it matters: The enthusiasm to forge something resembling a college experience has dissipated as online learning, lockdowns and a diminished social life has set in.

Now that the fall semester has started, 51% of students say it was not the right choice for their schools to allow students on campus. Just 3% say their school didn't allow students to return.

  • The dissatisfaction is more acute among those who have had to learn completely remotely, even if they are on campus. For those who have attended in-person classes, 59% say it was the right choice for campus to reopen, compared to just 42% for those who have not.
  • Removing many temptations of campus life has not made it easier to focus: 60% say they are learning less and just 6% say they're learning more.

What's going on: School administrators have tightened the screws on students to make sure that rule-defiers don't ruin things for everyone else.

  • After North Carolina and Michigan State (and Notre Dame, temporarily) made the call to move to online-only classes after August coronavirus outbreaks on campus, others have become even more strict in order to pull off a full semester.

Universities have threatened severe punishments for students who party and imposed strict lockdowns when cases emerge, determined to keep their campuses operating.

  • University of Wisconsin students in two big underclassmen residence halls were given a two-week quarantine order after the campus caseload surpassed 1,000, per the Wisconsin State Journal, forcing them to decide whether to just head back home.
  • The University of Illinois announced a similar lockdown for undergraduates earlier in the month.
  • Bradley University in Illinois is keeping all students locked down for two weeks.

The polling shows that attending parties — or even having witnessing one — is associated with a higher chance of knowing someone who's contracted the coronavirus.

  • 12% say they've attended a party, and among them, 60% say they know someone who contracted the virus on campus. Compare that to the 38% who haven't partied and know someone who's gotten COVID-19 at school.
  • Among those who haven't even seen a party, the number who don't know someone who's contracted the virus drops to 23%. Meanwhile, 55% who have seen a party say they know someone who got sick.

The big picture: While there have been high-profile outbreaks in college towns accompanied by images of partying students, most students have engaged in less conspicuous social activities: 73% of students have either been to a party, bar or restaurant or gathered with friends mask-less.

Methodology: The poll was conducted September 15-16 from a representative sample of 808 college students with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

College Reaction’s polling is conducted using a demographically representative panel of college students from around the country. The surveys are administered digitally and use college e-mail addresses as an authentication tool to ensure current enrollment in a four-year institution. The target for the general population sample was students currently enrolled in accredited 4-year institutions in the United States.

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