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Poll: COVID-19 alters college plans for nearly half of new grads

Utah State University to prioritize face-to-face instruction

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Students study at Utah State University in Logan. Nearly half of graduating high school seniors say the COVID-19 pandemic has altered their college plans.

Deseret News archives

SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly half of graduating high school seniors say the COVID-19 pandemic has altered their college plans, with students expressing concerns about being able to afford college and whether college experiences will be negatively impacted, a new national survey shows.

The survey of 1,000 members of the Class of 2020 conducted for Junior Achievement indicates 40% of students say COVID-19 has affected their plans to pay for college.

Thirty-five percent of students say they are less excited to go to college and among the college-bound, 58% expressed concerns that COVID-19 will impact classes and academic quality while 53% expect it to affect dorm life.

Forty percent of students are concerned the pandemic will affect dining halls, while 44% said it will also affect athletic and school-sponsored events.

Robert Wagner, executive vice provost and dean for academic and instructional services at Utah State University, said USU is going to great lengths to ensure its freshman class enjoys the typical college experiences they expect this fall such as in-person instruction and residence life.

“We want to make sure that as many of our students as possible have a face-to-face experience, especially our incoming freshmen. That’s so much of why students come to Utah State University, is because of that Aggie experience, or that Eagle experience at Price (at USU Eastern), being able to come and being able to benefit from a residential experience and all that goes along with that,” Wagner said.

Wagner, addressing the Utah Legislature’s Education Interim Committee, said the university will offer classes via eight different modes of instruction that include online classes, in-person instruction, hybrid models, Zoom classes or other web broadcasts to ensure students have access to classes and can safely progress toward graduation.

USU officials have visited every classroom on the Logan campus and each of its campuses and learning centers statewide to determine what social distancing metrics mean in real terms

“That leaves us anywhere between 30% and 45% student capacity in our classrooms,” Wagner said.

And masks?

“We will be requiring face coverings in all of our teaching and learning spaces. That will be an important safety precaution,” Wagner said.

While classroom capacity issues will likely mean increased reliance on distance education in some areas, Wagner said administrators and faculty are well aware that returning students, as well as incoming freshmen who completed their senior years with online learning, are likely experiencing “remote learning fatigue.”

“We want to reenergize them and help them to be able to have a successful experience and learn how to be successful in the different delivery methods that their courses are going to be offered. We want to make sure that we’re building academic skills,” he said.

USU was an early pioneer of distance learning and has devoted considerable resources to train faculty to teach effectively on multimedia platforms. Still, the sudden pivot from on-campus instruction to remote learning this spring due to the pandemic presented challenges, said Neil Abercrombie, USU’s director of government relations.

“We felt like we had a little bit of a head start on this but it’s still been a very daunting, a huge task to make that transition,” Abercrombie said.

USU has also developed detailed plans for students who live on residential campuses in Logan, Price and Blanding.

The university plans to extend the window for moving into the dorms. Students will have scheduled move-in times to avoid a crush of students and their families attempting to move in at once.

Residence hall staff will be trained about infection prevention, how to recognize symptoms of COVID-19 and how to address possible infections. Moreover, each campus will work to establish an “on-campus living culture that respects the safety and health of all,” according to documents prepared for the legislative meeting.

Nearly half of graduating high school seniors nationwide say the pandemic altered their plans after high school, according to the Junior Achievement survey results. Among the 49% who indicated a change in plans, more than a third say they will now work and 32% expect to delay their college start date.

The email and online survey, conducted for Junior Achievement and Project Management Institute Education Foundation by Wakefield Research, has a 3.1% margin of error.

Jack E. Kosakowski, president and CEO of Junior Achievement USA, said it’s not surprising that recent high school graduates are reconsidering their plans.

“I think what is surprising are the types of life-altering decisions being made now without a clear idea of what the coming weeks and months will bring. That’s why it’s imperative we get as much information as possible to teens to help them navigate these uncertain times,” Kosakowski said in a statement.

For USU, at least, students are anxious to come to campus to start college and return to campus as continuing students, Abercrombie said. In fact, the university has waiting lists for housing.

The school is also working with Bear River Health authorities to find housing in the community in case students need to quarantine once the semester begins. The university has offered used of one of its dormitories to the community this summer for people who needed to self-isolate but it needs it to house students this fall, he said.

“It’s something that we spent a lot of time thinking about, talking about, losing sleep over. It’s not the best comparison but a residential campus we feel at times is a little bit like a land-locked cruise ship. If we start to experience an outbreak this fall, it’s going to quickly spread through campus with our dining and residence halls. So, we’re still working through exactly what that will be, but it’s front and center on our minds with Bear River Health,” Abercrombie said.