Dive Brief:

  • Three-quarters of college students said in a recent poll they’ll return to campus in the fall if permitted.  

  • A majority of the 800 college students surveyed by Axios and polling group College Reaction said they would give up some elements of campus life, such as attending parties (79%) or sporting events (71%).

  • Many institutions are relying on students to follow safety measures if they reopen campuses, but officials are skeptical they will actually stick to them.

Dive Insight:

Colleges are still deciding whether to restart face-to-face classes this fall. More than half of some 1,200 institutions The Chronicle of Higher Education is tracking are planning for in-person instruction, but that share has slowly shrunk in the past few weeks as the pandemic shows little sign of subsiding. 

Elite institutions such as Harvard University and the University of Southern California, as well as well-resourced systems such as the California State University, have elected to remain mostly online for the coming year. 

Coinciding with colleges’ fall planning is a campaign by the Trump administration to pressure institutions to resume normal operations. The president spent a large chunk of last week pushing for them to reopen and the White House deployed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos onto the Sunday talk show circuit to tout the benefits of in-person instruction.

Given the option, the Axios/College Reaction poll found, two-thirds of students would attend in-person classes. However, a similar share said they’d leave campus if a major outbreak of the coronavirus occurred.

It’s possible that even if administrators reopen campuses, continued growth in cases in the fall and winter will force them to shut down again quickly.

Students seem to want to avoid that outcome, though. In addition to steering clear of some events, a little more than half of students who responded to the poll said they’d voluntarily download an app to help conduct contact tracing, one of the health measures colleges are banking on to help them reopen.

And the vast majority of students (95%) reported they wear masks when they aren’t able to maintain social distancing.

However, administrators aren’t sure students will follow these safety guidelines. More than half of the 69 campus officials recently surveyed by consulting firm EAB said they were worried about enforcing social distancing in campus common areas and that students wouldn’t follow safety measures off campus.

Administrators are also unsure how to enforce campus policies, according to EAB’s report. Some colleges have floated banning students from campus for repeated violations, but legal experts are not clear on whether and how colleges can punish students for flouting rules.

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