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Students fear spreading virus but slow to distance

Overview: Coronavirus has thrashed most systems of American life and industry. Higher education has been one of the central theaters in the fight against the virus, which swept students from campus. Now, many students who leaned on their college for meals, housing and healthcare must grope for resources.

Key trends

Major concern: Transmitting the virus to elderly and immunocompromised populations

• Students have been the subject of rage-stoking news clips, which feature scores of college kids swarming beaches with little regard for the virus. Yet, 90% of students say they are concerned about transmitting the virus to vulnerable populations.

Minor concern: Personal health

• While students fear transmitting the virus, they're less concerned about their odds of contracting it. Only 50% of college students report concern over their personal health in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Major concern: US Economy and Job Market

Over a decade after the Great Recession of 2008, an economic collapse threatens the fate of students nationwide as they launch into careers. 90% of respondents report concern over the job market and the economy as both flirt with crisis.

Striking stat: Students have been sluggish to heed public orders for strict distancing. 53% reported having attended a social gathering between March 13th and March 20th. Though, even within the two days of polling, the share of students reporting they hadn't gone to social gatherings steadily increased. In short, students were slower to internalize warnings, but they appear to be making more adjustments each day.

The bigger picture: There is an army of newly-idle young people who have been yanked from campus as they survey a shriveling job market on the horizon. As they strain to adjust to distance-learning, students' schedules have opened up dramatically.

As private sector companies atrophy and payrolls shrink, students are facing a daunting job market that so recently saw historically-low unemployment. The coming months will determine whether companies can brave the storm and maintain their workforce, or if the job market morphs to fit a post-virus landscape.

Key findings:

• 91% of students are concerned about the US economy and job market

• 90% of students are concerned about transmitting COVID-19 to vulnerable populations

• 50% of students are concerned about contracting COVID-19

• 96% of students trust information coming from public health experts

• 23% of students trust information coming from President Trump

• 53% of students have attended a social gathering since March 13th


Data in this report are generated from a poll conducted March 19-21st, 2020. A total of 965 panelists participated in the poll. The margin of error for the full sample is +/- 3.1 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 address as an authentication tool to ensure current enrollment in a four-year institution. The target population for the general population sample was students currently enrolled in accredited 4-year institutions in the US.

Respondents in this poll were randomly selected from a respondent database, which aims to mirror the broader college demographic from a racial, geographic and political standpoint as defined by the National Center for Education statistics.


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