Colleges Pledged to Follow the Science. But Divides in Reopening Plans Reflected State Politics

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tags: public health, colleges and universities, COVID-19

Institutional decisions about whether to reopen colleges in-person this fall correlated most strongly with state politics, not the regional public-health conditions that campus leaders said were front and center in their considerations, new research suggests.

The finding, from a pre-peer-review research and policy brief published by the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, reveals that both public and private institutions in Republican-led states were less likely to say in early August they would operate online this fall. County case numbers of Covid-19 did not have as strong of a correlation to campus decisions.

Over the summer, administrators cited their on-campus public-health expertise and data on the pandemic as central to decisions. But researchers found little evidence that state and county case rates were a “strong piece” of decision making, broadly.

Administrators were in a tough position, said Daniel Collier, the paper’s lead author and a research associate at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. Though Collier said he had public-health concerns that left him “personally opposed” to the reopening of many colleges, a larger set of pressures seemed present for campus leaders. “If you need to align with power, if you’re trying to save your institution, if you’re trying to save the jobs that come with the money that would come with bringing students back, it’s absolutely a rational decision.”

The data reviewed by the College Crisis Initiative, which has partnered with The Chronicle on a reopenings tracker, is not causal. Collier said additional research, including qualitative research, is needed to determine the extent of legislative influence.


Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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