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1 in 5 college students don't plan to go back this fall

As the coronavirus pandemic pushes more and more universities to switch to remote learning — at least to start — 22% of college students across all four years are planning not to enroll this fall, according to a new College Reaction/Axios poll.

Why it matters: Scores of colleges were already approaching a financial cliff before the pandemic began. Steep drops in enrollment could push some over the edge.


Students are making alternative plans for the fall.

  • Of those not returning to school, most — 73% — are working full time. Around 4% are taking classes at a different university, and 2% are doing volunteer work.
  • Freshmen who are unwilling to sacrifice the experience of a normal first year of college appear to account for a big chunk of those who are planning not to enroll this fall. Harvard, which is going fully remote, says 20% of the students in its incoming freshman class are deferring.
  • Students also recognize the risk. 85% believe they are likely (or very likely) to be exposed to the coronavirus if they're on campus this fall.

Some colleges are planning to welcome students back. And those kids are preparing for a very different college experience.

  • No more dorm life: Of the students returning to a campus, 56% are living off-campus, 7% are in single dorms and 9% are in doubles. Many universities are limiting dorm capacities.
  • Party police: A clear majority — 58% — of students say they'll tell the school if they see a peer violate campus safety protocol.
  • Tailgating is over: 77% say their school shouldn't participate in football and other sports this fall.

Methodology: The poll was conducted August 16-17 from a representative sample of 798 college students with a margin of error of +/- 3.5 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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