COVID Factors Heavily into Gen Z’s College Decisions

A majority of younger students are prioritizing COVID-19 safety precautions when making their college decision choices. According to a recent survey by Tallo, Gen Z students are taking the risks seriously and are expecting their college experience to include masks and vaccinations, so much so that 68% are most likely to attend a college that requires vaccines for enrollment.

With safety protocols in place, 61% of surveyed students are excited and hopeful about a return to campus this Fall, and just 13% are feeling anxious. Three in four surveyed students said they would choose and attend a college that requires masks on campus. In fact, 77% said a mask would not negatively affect how they learn.

“This generation has proved themselves to be resilient time and time again over the past year and a half, and I think the rest of us certainly have a lot to learn from them about what it means to be adaptable,” Casey Welch, CEO of Tallo, told Fierce Education.

But students expressed a need to take personal precautions. About 68% of Gen Z students already received the COVID vaccine and 11% said they plan to get the vaccine. Another 9% of students surveyed said they will not get the vaccine and 7% are still unsure.

But concerns still linger for Gen Zers, with three out of four saying they are concerned about getting COVID-19, and 57% are “very concerned” about spreading the virus to a family member.

Tallo’s survey shows that students of Gen Z seem in favor of keeping up the COVID-19 precautions beyond the college campus. For example, 86% of those surveyed believe all unvaccinated individuals should wear masks in public and 68% believe vaccinated individuals should also wear masks.

“Gen Z students are sending a clear message to colleges about what they’re looking for in order to feel safe, and colleges who don’t provide these COVID-19 policies may see their enrollment numbers negatively impacted,” Welch said. “This pandemic may also continue to inspire high school seniors to enroll in online college courses, two-year schools, or even upskilling programs which can be less expensive and more accessible than in-person classes.”

As it was not a focus of this survey, Welch is unsure of how older adult learners or non-traditional students feel about the possibility of returning to strictly online learning versus a hybrid classroom. 

“In Tallo’s recent survey, 79% of Gen Z students said they’re concerned about the possibility of schools being forced to go virtual again due to COVID-19,” Welch said. “Older students — who are more likely to hold a part-time or full-time job while simultaneously earning their degree — may appreciate the flexibility that virtual classes bring.”

Welch believes the survey of 2,500 Gen Zers needs to be shared with colleges and universities so that they have a clear understanding of what their students find important. For example, mask mandates in schools are controversial around the country, but for 77% of Gen Zers, wearing a mask would not negatively impact their learning experience.

“This survey should remind all of us that members of Generation Z have powerful voices, and they’re not afraid to speak their minds,” Welch said. “As schools, companies, and governments have revisited their COVID-19 policies in the wake of the Delta variant, how many of them are making decisions for this younger generation based on assumptions about what they need or want, as opposed to what they’re telling us they actually need and want.”