New Survey of College Faculty and Staff Finds Divide Around Campus Reopening, Masking and Vaccine Mandates
Liaison International's survey of faculty and frontline staff finds that 65% of colleges are returning to a full campus reopening; less than half require vaccines, but two-thirds have mask mandates
September 14, 2021 ·
3 minute read
WATERTOWN, Mass. (Sept. 14, 2021) — Nearly two-thirds of college campuses are on track for a full reopening this fall, but less than half require vaccines for students or faculty, according to a national survey of higher education professionals released by Liaison International, the provider of the widely-used technology platform that has processed more than 2.5 million college applications across more than 1,000 colleges and universities. As new variants of COVID-19 continue to throw plans for the fall semester into doubt, faculty and staff continue to express concern and uncertainty about campus reopenings and COVID-19 policies, but 71% feel ready to shift to work or teach virtually if campuses switch to virtual operations and classes.
"The long-term impact of COVID-19 on higher education is yet to be determined, but this important research gives us a glimpse into how colleges and universities, in various regions around the country, are moving forward. It remains to be seen which approach will be most effective in managing the lingering effects of the pandemic, but clearly there is a sense of optimism as campuses move into the new academic year."
- George Haddad, Founder and CEO of Liaison
The report surveyed more than 900 faculty and staff members at U.S. colleges and universities to gauge the perspectives of higher education professionals on a range of issues related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic during the 2021-2022 academic year. Faculty and staff identified keeping a regular schedule (53%), communication with coworkers (42%) and concerns around last-minute enrollment and course registration (43%) as the top challenges they are seeing this semester.
Other findings from Liaison's COVID-19 Impact study include:
Nearly two-thirds of campuses plan for reopening. 65% of respondents indicated their institution was planning to open, as usual, for in-person classes. Another 31% of the respondents chose to open campus for some classes, while some remained online. Only 3% of the respondents work at institutions that are still evaluating their options.
Less than half of campuses require vaccination for students or staff. Less than half (48%) of institutions are requiring students to be vaccinated for the Fall 2021 semester, and only 43% of respondents work at institutions that require faculty and staff to vaccinate. However, a sizable majority of institutions (70%) are tracking the vaccination status of their students.
Faculty and staff feel ready to go remote — if needed. Despite the challenges with shifting to online instruction during the pandemic, 71% of faculty and staff are extremely or very confident in their ability to adjust to daily operations in case of a return to online instruction because of systems now in place to shift to online learning and remote work. The overwhelming majority of faculty and staff (92%) felt confident that students are well prepared to return to online instruction.
More than two thirds of campuses have mask mandates in place. 68% of faculty and staff report that their institution is requiring students and staff to wear masks, and most respondents outside of the South work at campuses that require masks.
Regional differences are driving COVID-19 policies on reopening, masks and vaccines. Institutions in the South, faculty and staff reported, are far more likely to reopen and hold in-person classes, while colleges and universities in the Northeast were the least likely to be open to students. Colleges and universities in the South and Midwest are less likely to require vaccines for faculty, staff or students, while institutions in the Western United States are more likely to ask faculty and staff members to vaccinate.
Faculty view online instruction, vaccine requirements, and finances as the biggest challenges for students. 47% of faculty view the "fear that their education would return to being fully online in 2021" as the biggest challenge for students this fall. Faculty also pointed to student financial hardship (44%), balancing work and study (35%) and uncertainty around vaccine requirements (34%), as major challenges facing students.
"Faculty and staff have shown a remarkable degree of resilience and adaptability despite the prolonged uncertainty around campus operations, instruction and student enrollment," said Dr. Joshua Schwartz, a professor at SUNY Schenectady and Montgomery County Community College. Dr. Schwartz, who is also a staff member at Liaison, co-authored the report with Nicole Hunt, Liaison's product marketing specialist. "These findings suggest that faculty and staff continue to be concerned about the personal and professional impact of COVID-19, but also feel surprisingly well-prepared to teach and work in a remote environment as we enter the next phase of the pandemic."
Conducted between August 4 and August 20, 2021, Liaison International fielded the survey using an online survey questionnaire sent to faculty, staff and administrators at 3,106 higher education institutions across the United States with 901 responses. The respondents included both full- and part-time faculty and staff: 45% of survey respondents were faculty, 21% were support staff, 10% were advisors or counselors, 20% were directors or assistant directors and 2% were vice presidents or executive directors.