Students surveyed for views on potential return to campus

June 11, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In the recent “Potential Return to Campus” survey, Penn State gathered feedback on students’ perceptions and attitudes around a possible return to on-campus instruction for fall 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The survey was emailed to random sample of 16,864 students, which included undergraduate as well as graduate and professional students from University Park and eight campuses. The overall response rate for the survey was 35.5%. The results are under review by Penn State leadership and the 16 coronavirus task groups that are formulating the University’s fall semester plans.  

The survey gauged students’ current plans related to the upcoming semester as well as how various scenarios would impact their likelihood of returning to campus. The results show that 86% of University Park students and 87% of campus students who responded are somewhat or very likely to return to Penn State whether in person or remote, while 11.8% of University Park students and 9.3% of campus students don’t know or are undecided. 

General perceptions about COVID-19 and returning to campus 

The survey showed that while students are generally concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on themselves (60.8% of University Park students and 66.5% of campus students), they are even more concerned for their friends and family and for the Penn State campuses and community. Approximately 81% of University Park students and 83% of campus students indicated they are worried about the impact of COVID-19 on their family and friends and approximately 76% and 78%, respectively, are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their Penn State campus and surrounding community.  

Some of the primary concerns for students around a return to on-campus instruction, include safety to themselves and others; being around others who are coming from “hot spots;” being around large crowds of people; and sanitation of classrooms and other facilities.  

Likelihood of engaging in preventive behaviors inside and outside the classroom 

Students also were asked how likely they would be to engage in specific preventive measures if the University does return to on-campus instruction. For academic classrooms, students indicated that they were somewhat likely or very likely to engage in the following behaviors: 

  • Wear a mask in classrooms (81% UP; 73.8% campuses) 

  • Maintain six feet of physical distance in classrooms (76.9% UP; 74.2% campuses) 

  • Have temperature scanned upon entering classrooms (77.9% UP; 72% campuses) 

  • Use hand sanitizer upon entering classrooms (94.6% UP; 91.4% campuses) 

In regard to following preventive measures in public spaces outside the classroom, students indicated that they were somewhat likely or very likely to engage in the following behaviors: 

  • Wear a mask in public spaces (86% UP; nearly 82% campuses) 

  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizer regularly (96.5% UP; 94.5% campuses) 

  • Maintain six feet of physical distance (83% UP; 80% campuses) 

  • Spend time with friends in smaller groups (83% UP; 82% campuses) 

  • Follow foot traffic guidance to help with social distancing (85% UP; 78% campuses) 

  • Reduce or avoid travel during the semester (84% UP; 77% campuses) 

While students generally indicated they were likely to engage in these preventive behaviors inside the classroom and in public spaces, some also indicated they were somewhat or very likely to have close contact with friends other than roommates (51% UP; 44% campuses), go to apartment or house parties (42% UP; 24% campuses), and go to bars (30% UP; nearly 20% campuses).  

"Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of our students take the COVID-19 threat seriously and indicate their intention to follow the critically important public health and safety guidelines if we do return to in-person experiences," said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs. "If we are to limit the spread of the disease in our communities, the entire University, including its students, must commit to following these guidelines on and off campus. Our students should expect of each other a consistent commitment to hand hygiene, the wearing of masks, following social distancing guidelines, avoiding large gatherings, and compliance with the University's other expectations, all of which are directed toward public health and sustaining an in-person student experience at Penn State." 

Effects on well-being and concerns about day-to-day needs 

The survey also gauged the impact COVID-19 has had on students’ overall well-being. More than half of survey participants indicated that their psychological well-being and their ability to pursue their studies is worse or much worse than before the pandemic. Approximately half of participants also reported a decrease in income because of the pandemic.  

Some of the top concerns for students related to their day-to-day needs and educational needs, include:  

  • The ability to pay tuition/fees; 

  • Access to resources to complete coursework or research projects; 

  • Access to opportunities outside the classroom (e.g. internships, events, etc.); 

  • Access to health care; 

  • Access to food; 

  • Job opportunities; and 

  • Public transportation. 

The University has many resources available to support students with these concerns and is continuing to respond to students’ requests for assistance through offices such as Student Care and AdvocacyCounseling and Psychological ServicesCareer ServicesUniversity Health Services, the Lion’s Pantry, and others. Students who need support with day-to-day or educational needs can view a list of student support resources and offices online.  

This survey was conducted by the Student Affairs Research and Assessment office. The survey and its results can be found here. Penn State Student Affairs Research and Assessment supports the mission of Student Affairs and the University by serving as a leader in gathering actionable data that inform decision-making, planning, and improvement efforts around programs, initiatives and policies. 

 Results from the employee survey – “Return to Work” – also are under review by leadership. The employee survey was distributed to 27,699 faculty and staff at Penn State, resulting in a response rate of 58%. A story on the results can be found here.


Last Updated September 22, 2020