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86% Of Students Feel Comfortable Returning To Campus, Penn State Says

The vast majority of Penn State students would feel comfortable returning to campus this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to survey results gathered by the university.

The survey, which Penn State emailed to a random sample of nearly 17,000 students from University Park and eight Commonwealth Campuses, gauged students’ current thoughts on the pandemic and how various scenarios would affect their likelihood to potentially return to campus this fall.

According to the results, 86% of University Park students would be “somewhat or very likely” to return to Penn State in some fashion this fall. Meanwhile, 11.8% of students either don’t know or are undecided.

Additionally, the survey found approximately 60% of University Park students are “generally concerned” regarding the pandemic and 81% are worried about the coronavirus’ impact on their family and friends. About 76% reported they’re concerned about the virus’ impact on Penn State and State College.

Students also responded to a variety of specific preventative measures that could potentially be implemented in classrooms or on campuses this fall. Below, they indicated they were “somewhat likely or very likely” to do the following:

  • 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) 

Respondents also reacted to potential measures that could be taken outside of the classroom and around campus.

  • 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)

Although many cited they’re willing to maintain social distancing if they return to campus, 51% of students indicated they’re likely to be in close contact with friends other than their roommates. Additionally, 42% and 30% of students reported they’d still go to house parties and bars, respectively.

“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,” Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims said. “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.”

Additionally, more than half of students surveyed indicated their mental health and ability to pursue studies is “worse or much worse” than before the pandemic. The majority of students also reported a decrease in income.

Penn State plans to use the data collected to inform decision-making as it prepares to announce its plans for the fall semester by Monday, June 15. Although roughly a third of students responded to the survey, the results should still be pretty helpful when planning for the future.

The university is also reviewing a “return to work” survey of its employees. The questionnaire was sent to nearly 28,000 faculty and staff members, and results will be shared soon.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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