New Survey Finds Americans Split on Students Returning to Campus, With Sharp Divide Along Party Lines

By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Americans are almost evenly divided on whether colleges and universities made the right decision to bring back students this semester as the COVID-19 pandemic continued, according to a new survey.

Fifty percent of respondents in the poll from the Pew Research Center said colleges made the right decision to bring students to campus for the fall semester, compared to 48% who said they did not.

Respondents were sharply divided along party lines, with those who identified as Republicans and those who lean Republican more than twice as likely as Democrats and those leaning Democratic to say bringing students back was the right decision.

In the poll, 74% of Republican respondents said institutions that are currently providing in-person instruction made the right decision in bringing students back to campus, compared to only 29% of Democrats.

Even with some schools offering in-person instruction, online or remote learning is much more prevalent. Students living on campus are still likely to take some amount of online classes. The poll found an overwhelming majority of Americans — 68% — believe a class taken solely online does not provide equal educational value to those taken in person. Only 30% said a course taken exclusively online yields an equal educational value compared to a course taken in person.

A majority of both Democratic and Republican respondents shared the view that a class offered remotely does not provide equal value with those in a classroom. Notably, the poll found college graduates are among the most likely to say online instruction is not an equivalent to in-person classes.

The survey of more than 10,0000 adults found a majority of respondents (56%) said the nation’s higher education system is generally going in the wrong direction. It is unclear what impact the ongoing pandemic has on that perception, though fewer people held that view in 2018, when 61% said it was going in the wrong direction.

In the most recent survey, 41% said higher education in the country is going in the right direction, compared with 38% in 2018. Democrats are roughly split on the question of higher education’s general direction, while two-thirds of Republicans say it’s going in the wrong direction.

The online poll was conducted between October 13-19 and surveyed 10,332 adults, with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.


Publication Date: 10/30/2020

Jennifer M | 11/4/2020 3:53:56 PM

Some proof reading was needed for this article, just as a heads up. And to second Genevieve E: what counts as "going in the right/wrong direction"? That's open to too much interpretation.

Genevieve E | 10/30/2020 1:54:43 PM

What is the meaning of "going in the right/wrong direction"? Is that phrase referencing enrollment, curriculum, graduation, cost?

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