As colleges grapple with the uncertainty of fall 2021, new survey data suggest that many incoming students are ready to enroll regardless of the Covid-19 precautions their institutions put in place.
The survey results aren’t representative: They come from consulting firms’ research on their higher-ed clients’ students, and aren’t weighted to account for students who don’t opt in to answer questions, or who are outside of the firms’ client bases. But the numbers do suggest some sentiments that may be common among undergraduates — notably, that a majority of prospective students would go to a college that required them to get a Covid-19 vaccine.
That finding comes from Maguire Associates, an enrollment-consulting firm that got more than 21,000 prospective transfer and first-year college students and their parents to answer a long email survey. Maguire researchers found that under every scenario they asked about, comfortable majorities of respondents said they would enroll in the four-year colleges they were considering. If the college required masks on campus? Eighty-eight percent of responding transfer students, and 95 percent of responding first-year students, said they would go. If vaccines were required? Seventy-four percent of transfer students and 85 percent of first-years would enroll.
At the same time, there was a real contingency of respondents who opposed Covid-19 precautions. “The majority of people say, ‘Yes, yes,’ to everything,” said Yun Jin Rho, Maguire Associates’ vice president for research. “They are ready to enroll no matter what. But still, we see these groups which are hidden in these majority of answers.”
Using a statistical model, Rho and her team found that most respondents fell into one of three categories, which they named Freedom First, Normalcy Seekers, and Continuing Carefully. Freedom First respondents, who made up 7 percent of the total sample, were more likely to be parents and white than the sample over all. They didn’t want their or their child’s college to require masks and social distancing, and were more likely to say they would enroll if Covid-19 vaccines weren’t required.
Normalcy Seekers and Continuing Carefully respondents, who together made up 79 percent of the sample, were more open to anti-Covid requirements. Continuing Carefully respondents preferred them.
Maguire Associates doesn’t advocate for making coronavirus-policy decisions based on what’s most popular among prospective students, said Matt Maguire, vice president for client services. “I think they should make the decisions for what they think is right,” he said. “This can help them plan, communicate, and have strategies in place for what the blowback might be if they do something that might be unpopular with a significant proportion of their pool.”
Another survey, from the company EdSights, found that undergraduates’ comfort levels with Covid-19 vaccines roughly mirror those of adults in the United States over all — which is to say most are OK with getting immunized, but significant minorities are not.
EdSights makes SMS bots that colleges can use to check in on students’ sentiments and academic progress. Over the past week, at the request of clients, the company has collected responses from more than 129,000 undergraduates, most of them at four-year colleges, about whether they planned to get vaccinated.
Hello, [student name]! Important question for you 🤔
Do you plan on getting the Covid-19 vaccine in the next 6 months?
 Yes 👍
 No 👎
 Unsure 🤷♂️
 Already been Vaccinated👌
Reply with ONE NUMBER ONLY (e.g. 1)
Those who reply with 2 get a second prompt:
Thanks for sharing 💜
Can you share a sentence or two on why not?
Edsights found that 66 percent of respondents either had already been vaccinated or said they planned to within six months. Among those who were unsure or unwilling, some of the most common reasons why were fears that not enough is known about the shots’ long-term effects, fear of the vaccines’ immediate side effects, and worries that the vaccine might worsen the respondents’ existing health conditions. Some students said their parents didn’t want them to get vaccinated.
The results echo those from Maguire Associates, which found that 70 percent of prospective first-year students, who were U.S. citizens or permanent residents, rated themselves as either “comfortable” or “very comfortable” getting Covid-19 vaccines. (Sixty-three percent of international students said the same.) For comparison, in a recent Pew survey, 69 percent of American adults said they had either already gotten at least one vaccine dose, or would “probably” or “definitely” get immunized.
Clients have used EdSights’s results to decide how many doses of vaccines to order for on-campus clinics, estimate how many students will still be vulnerable to Covid-19 in the fall, and design educational campaigns, said Carolina Recchi, one of EdSight’s co-founders.