Abstract: Student Perceptions Towards Returning to in-Person Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Student Perceptions Towards Returning to in-Person Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Ahwatukee A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Willie Jones, MSW, Clinical Social Worker / Doctoral Student, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Athena Kheibari, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University, MI
Background and Purpose: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, universities enacted policies to mitigate student and staff virus infection risk, such as transitioning to online instruction. Since April 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine has been widely available, leading universities to re-open for in-person instruction starting in the Fall 2021 semester and instituted vaccination mandates for students and staff. This study aimed to explore university students’ perceptions about returning to campus for the Fall 2021 semester. Specifically, the study examined student instruction preferences and attitudes towards vaccinations and COVID-19-related policies.

Methods: Students were recruited from a Midwestern university to complete an online survey (n = 272). Recruitment occurred during the first one and a half months of the university’s Fall 2021 semester. We conducted multinomial and ordinal logistic regression to identify factors associated with their attitudes about university policies and the COVID-19 pandemic. Outcome measures included (1) trust that others on campus have received their COVID-19 vaccination, (2) trust that others who are without a face covering indoors on campus are vaccinated, (3) preference to keep courses virtual, and (4) belief that that university was re-opening campus too soon. Demographics and COVID-19 vaccination status were independent variables.

Results: The majority (80.5%) of the sample (n=272) reported receiving at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Most (77.4%) reported getting other routine vaccines such as HPV, Flu, MMR, and Measles. Results revealed almost an even divide in preference to keep classes virtual for the semester, with 38.6% preferring to keep classes virtual/online, 35.7% preferring in-person courses, and 12.9% reported being unsure. Participants who reported being unvaccinated were 8.4 times more likely to neither trust nor distrust that others at the university would be vaccinated (OR = 8.377, p <001). Unvaccinated participants were also 3.2 times more likely to disagree that the university was opening too soon for in-person instruction (OR = 3.222, p =.004). Participants who reported knowing someone who became seriously ill or died from COVID-19 were associated with vaccination.

Conclusions and Implications: This study found an association between students’ vaccination status and confidence in others’ compliance with university vaccine requirements and attitudes toward safe re-opening of the campus. Unvaccinated students were more likely to feel neutral toward others’ vaccination compliance and were more accepting of the university’s decision to re-open campus. Future research should explore whether any personal factors would lead vaccinated students to have more hesitancy toward trusting others’ health status. Universities would benefit from taking extra measures to ease students’ public health concerns so that enrollment and willingness to return to in-person learning does not decline. Furthermore, this study found that students who were personally exposed to another’s COVID-19 severe illness/death were more likely to be vaccinated themselves. This may indicate that personal exposure to the severe consequences of the virus impacts commitment to taking precautions against the virus. Further studies are needed to explore perceptions of university COVID-19 policies and their impact on university outcomes.