Back to School 2020: How US colleges are planning for the new school year

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the lives of students across the US. A survey of Student Beans users found that 94% of them had moved to online classes, and 96% of those who were staying in student accommodation had moved to their family home. As the 2019/20 school year comes to a close and summer break begins, colleges are now facing the question of how and when they will reopen, and what student life will look like for those starting or returning to college in the fall.

Will students be back on campus this year?

Universities are taking a variety of different approaches to reopening. Most are expecting to return to in-person classes by the fall, with social distancing measures in place. Many colleges are looking at a combination of online and on-campus learning, with flexibility for students who are more vulnerable to the virus. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, which is tracking about 1,075 colleges, 60% currently plan to hold in-person fall classes, and 23% have proposed a mix of in-person and online. Only 8% are planning to remain online only.

There is a strong incentive for colleges to find a way for students to return to campus, as they know that students expect to receive the full college experience to make their tuition fees worthwhile. Therefore, they are looking at creative ideas, such as a phased return based on year group or faculty, or limited student accommodation that ensures no-one lives in a shared room. To reassure students that returning to college will be safe, it’s likely that face masks may be required, and testing will be widely available on campus.

A student carries their books on campus.

How will the changes affect student numbers?

According to a survey of Student Beans users in June, 95% of students who were planning to start college in the fall are still intending to do so. This represents only a small decrease since colleges began announcing their plans, as the result was 96% when we asked the same question in late April. This demonstrates that media reports about dropouts have been overblown, and those deciding not to attend are a small minority.

Will there be fewer international students attending university this year?

Due to travel restrictions, there will likely be fewer international students attending university in the US this year. However, our June survey of Student Beans users found that most international students already enrolled in US universities are hoping to return. Only 8% had changed their mind and decided not to come back to the US. Therefore, the presence of international students will depend primarily on how strict travel restrictions are by September.

College students party as they return to campus for another year of school.

What will Back to School events be like this year?

With large public gatherings currently banned, it’s unlikely that the usual large parties and events that mark the start of a new school year will go ahead. However, colleges will be keen to ensure these events still take place in some form, as they enable students to bond with classmates and are an important rite of passage for new starters. Depending on how relaxed social distancing measures are by the end of summer, we could see smaller events organized for groups within each college, separated by faculty or interest groups.

Additionally, there will be an increased number of virtual student orientation events, which means there are still plenty of ways for brands to reach students during the crucial first few weeks at college, when they are making purchasing decisions in new brand categories for the first time. Student Beans will be running a virtual Back to School Festival providing many opportunities for students to discover new brands and get exclusive discounts on the products they want and need.

Find out more about how you can partner with Student Beans to engage this year’s incoming students and help to give them a fantastic Back to School 2020.