The Fall 2020 Student Resident Report for College Students: 

Students wear masks, make the most of online learning, but lament the impact to the community experience. 

Prior to the start of the Fall 2020 semester, the news cycle was filled with stereotypical proclamations presupposing that college students would be unwilling to follow CDC or institutional guidelines for the in-person college experience amid a pandemic.

However, American Campus Communities’ (ACC) Fall 2020 Student Resident Report of college students living on- or off-campus reveals an overwhelming majority of residents in support of COVID-19 policies, their instructors and their universities, while acknowledging the impact to the residential community experience.

ACC administered the annual customer service survey from October 26 to November 6 to ACC residents, resulting in 42,569 completed responses (46 percent). The survey is among the largest of its kind specifically targeting college students living on campus or near their university. Participants ranged from incoming freshmen to graduate students in 84 university markets in the United States.
 

Who took the survey? 

 

This year, the survey data provides an insightful look into how students are coping with college life amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and adjusting to curriculum delivered primarily in an online format.


A solid 96 percent of respondents agreed or strongly stated they were actively following COVID-19 policies and guidelines with a scant 0.7 percent dissenting.
 

That number dropped by a third when speaking on behalf of their neighbor’s behavior. When asked if they trust their fellow students are following COVID-19 policies and guidelines, 62 percent agreed or strongly agreed, while 22 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.

More than half (57 percent) said they were not worried or not too worried they might contract COVID-19, while 43 percent acknowledged they were somewhat or very worried. The confidence level was higher in first-year students, 67 percent of whom are not worried or not too worried, as compared to 52 percent of seniors who feel the same.

 

When examined nationally, the data showcase fluctuations in confidence.

Students in the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest regions are more worried about contracting COVID-19, while students in the Northeast and Rocky Mountains say they are less concerned. 

As far as students observing CDC recommendations and University and community policies, the Fall 2020 Student Resident Report showcased strong marks. 






 


Students in turn gave their colleges and universities solid evaluations when asked to describe their institution’s safety policies and protocols for the Fall 2020 semester. 
 

A remarkable 85 percent described their university’s COVID-19 response as being effective or adequate, while 7 percent said the measures were insufficient, and another 6 percent described them as extreme.

However, students were candid in acknowledging the pandemic has negatively impacted the college experience.


“How can one feel a sense of community when we’re not allowed to interact with one another?” 
— Female freshman, Berkeley, Calif.



First-year students were more optimistic, as 71 percent reported feeling a sense of community where they live despite the pandemic. When residents were asked if they felt a sense of community where they live, only 57 percent said they agreed or somewhat agreed, while 4.7 percent somewhat or strongly disagreed.

“I guess that has nothing to do with the community itself, but rather with what is going on nowadays. New students haven’t been able to feel a sense of community here so far, but hopefully this is going to change.”
— Female, Graduate School - Masters, Irvine, California



Despite the restricted social events and temporary closure of some community amenities, students remained focused on academics; In fact, more than 85 percent saying that they could be academically successful, down only slightly from 86 percent the previous year. And despite fewer first-year students in residence across the nation, the freshmen optimism carried over with more than 91 percent saying they could be academically successful during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 

Similarly, students are overall optimistic about the online academic experience. 

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Of the total respondents, 54 percent take only online classes, with another 41 taking both online and in-person classes. Only 1 percent said they were taking all in-person classes.

It seems that even when teaching across screens, college and university teachers were successful in connecting with students, as 76 percent of respondents reported being satisfied or very satisfied with the access and support from instructors. 


“The professors have done a great job adapting to the situation and adjusting their curriculum and assignments based on these guidelines.”
— Female junior, Rochester, N.Y.



Another student acknowledged that instructors have been taking extra measures to connect with students despite the challenges of the new teaching platforms.


“Professors are reaching out to us now more than ever. My professors ask about our mental and emotional health. This year feels so weird to adapt to, but like it or not we have to.” 
— Female sophomore, Staten Island, N.Y.


However, we begin to see variances in students’ experiences with online learning and coursework. In fact...

“Having online classes has its benefits, but it also has some flaws. I am satisfied with online classes because I am able to work at my own pace from my apartment and can take as much time as I need to go through the curriculum. Its disadvantage is that some students may experience a lack of motivation to do their work and/or really take the time to learn the material. It is also harder to get help from professors [and] other students when it is all online.”
— Female junior, Morgantown, W.V.


Regarding technical problems associated with online classes, 15 percent experienced problems with audio or video most of the time, while 37 percent had glitches fewer than half of the time. However, nearly half (48 percent) said they never or rarely experienced technical difficulties.

“I like how the lectures are recorded allowing me to view the lecture whenever I need and more importantly being able to stop the video and catch up on my notes. [I] also like how easy it is to use the services like Zoom or WebEx. [I’m] not very happy with many teachers’ inability to use Zoom or WebEx effectively, meaning they have [not] been trained well enough to use these services effectively for their students.”
— Male senior, Amherst, N.Y.

 

While attending classes in person remains to be the preferred method of learning, students are adjusting to online learning from their student apartments. 

When asked how they personally were able to adjust to the virtual classroom, 77 percent admitted the online format made it moderately or much more difficult to learn the material, while 8 percent said the virtual curriculum made it moderately or much easier to learn. Overall, the comments revealed a consensus that in-person classes are preferred, and that students are willing to make personal sacrifices during the pandemic.
 

“It is a lot easier knowing that I am not putting my health at risk by going to campus. You constantly have to think of the pros and cons of every situation. Although, I may miss campus classes, I know online is something I need to do.” 
— Female junior, San Antonio, Texas 


Other students touted the upside of online curriculum, pointing out they don’t need to dress up, getting to class on time is easy in their student apartments, and their schedules are more flexible.

“Attending classes from my living room is the best thing that happened to me this year. I love being at home and doing all my work from a single place that is quite relaxing and well maintained. This saved me a lot of time to try out various things like cooking various cuisines and learning how to play [the ukulele].” 
— Female graduate student, Claremont, Calif.

 




 
1 3.4% –Neither, 0.5%–Disagree, 0.2%–Strongly Disagree.
2 Students reported as being worried are made up of respondents who selected “very worried” and “somewhat worried,” while those identified as not too worried responded with “not too worried” or “not worried at all.