Survey finds 90% of undergraduates to re-enroll in fall

Infographic showing who is not coming back or unsure about coming back to campus
Nada Lamie/Staff

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A recent survey found that 90% of undergraduates plan to re-enroll in fall 2020, despite many students reporting negative experiences with online learning and struggles with mental health.

The survey, conducted by the Student Experience in the Research University, or SERU, Consortium, asked questions about students’ academic experiences, financial hardships, well-being and future plans.

It found that — despite a high rate of mental health concerns, difficulty transitioning to online instruction, concerns with xenophobia and concerns over housing and food insecurity — only 1% of undergraduates have decided not to re-enroll in the fall, according to the policy brief.

Igor Chirikov, SERU Consortium director and senior researcher, said the survey’s most important finding is the high rate of mental health concerns, especially among low-income students, students of color, nonbinary students and transgender students.

“Over one-third of students have major depressive disorder symptoms and/or generalized anxiety disorder symptoms,” Chirikov said in an email. “This is much higher than we have seen in our pre-pandemic surveys in the past two years.”

After most surveys were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some SERU institutions suggested a special survey on the pandemic’s impact on student experiences, developing and launching it in less than two months.

“The major strength and value of the consortium is the ability to respond to common challenges like COVID-19 by pooling expertise and resources of its members – even in a very stressful and uncertain environment,” Chirikov said in the email.

UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education, or CSHE, hosted a webinar Thursday to present preliminary results, which analyzed responses from 22,516 undergraduate students at five public universities.

A majority of students reported obstacles in the transition to remote learning — 76% of students felt a lack of motivation, while 56% said they lacked access to an appropriate study space.

At a much lower rate, respondents also noted some positive experiences associated with remote instruction, such as having more time for academics and feeling less stressed. Of the respondents, 26% reported no positive experiences at all.

The survey found that, despite obstacles to remote learning, 91% of domestic students and 85% of international students will re-enroll in fall, according to the webinar.

“The alternative things that students can do are pretty limited at this point,” Chirikov said at the webinar. “Students can receive much more support at the university at this point than elsewhere.”

The survey also found that safety was one of the biggest concerns for international students — 24% reported concerns about xenophobia or discrimination, and the rate was much higher for students from East Asian countries.

CSHE will continue to publish policy briefs from the survey over the summer and gather data that will help institutions better plan for the fall term.

According to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff, campus administration is also currently surveying students to assess interest in fall on-campus housing.

Contact Catherine Hsu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @catherinehsuDC.