Our nation is roughly a month away from the reopening of colleges and the most recent survey indicates that 50% are planning to open with mainly face-to-face instruction, one third in a hybrid format, and 12% fully online. If one considers that there are about 20 million college students in the United States, we are about to see a huge wave of relocation.
Students from big cities will be moving to large universities, often located in towns or rural areas where they double or triple the local population, places like Amherst, Mass., State College, Pa., College Station, Texas, and many others. Many other students will relocate to our nation’s largest cities to attend the diverse array of institutions in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and others.
Surely, some students will arrive by car but many others will fly to their college homes away from home. Since pandemic control measures started earlier this year, the United States has not experienced such a large, demographic shift. COVID-19 may not be the most virulent disease we’ve ever faced, but it’s among the most wily and surreptitious, marked by the potential for significant spread by asymptomatic young people. There’s no need to blame or even further stereotype college students but we need to use what we know about their beliefs and behaviors to improve the way we educate them about their role and responsibilities in the present crisis.
The risk behaviors of many college students have been influenced positively in the recent past, witness the declining rates of unplanned pregnancy, increased awareness of sexual assault issues, improved adherence to rideshare safety protocols, and the near universal use of seat belts. Surely, we can do a good job with COVID-19 prevention but it won’t be easy. Let’s recruit students themselves, and other behavioral and marketing experts to develop successful campaigns. We are all depending on this.