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As the Chronicle of Higher Education recently stated, “the dream is crumbling” for many colleges that planned for an in-person semester. With each passing day, more and more colleges are returning to remote learning for students in response to COVID-19 outbreaks on campus. However, some institutions still are trying to make in-person or hybrid models work for students. In the face of changing plans and uncertainty, how are the parents of college students feeling about this semester? According to a TimelyMD survey (download results here) of over 500 parents from across the country, parents are worried not just about the short-term implications of the pandemic but the long-term ramifications of their students’ future plans after they graduate.
In fact, parents are just as concerned about students’ future job or internship opportunities as they were about their children becoming sick with COVID-19. Forty-eight percent (48%) of parents indicated they were concerned or very concerned about both. These numbers are significantly higher in California (70% for jobs, 57% for infection), where many institutions have shifted to online-only learning.
“Parents clearly remain worried about their students’ physical health, but also have heard repeatedly that the virus poses a lower risk to their young and healthy students,” said Dr. Alan Dennington, chief medical officer at TimelyMD. “When they look at the overall picture of what is best for their child, they are weighing future implications of their education more heavily than they might otherwise.”
Parents with Students Enrolled at Schools in COVID-19 Hotspots are More Concerned than National Average
As the data revealed, parents with students enrolled in school in COVID-19 hotspots — like Arizona, California, Florida and Texas — indicated higher levels of concern in several areas, in comparison to the national average.
48%* of parents are concerned about job/internship opportunities available to their students in the future.
50% – Arizona
69% – California
54% – Florida
47% – Texas
48%* of parents are concerned about the impact on their students’ physical health.
63% – Arizona
58% – California
49% – Florida
51% – Texas
46%* of parents are concerned about the impact on their students’ mental health.
69% – Arizona
64% – California
51% – Florida
49% – Texas
47%* of parents believe an outbreak of COVID-19 is likely to occur on their students’ campuses.
50% – Arizona
41% – California
66% – Florida
44% – Texas
Parents Lack Confidence in Students on Campus
Where colleges have brought students back to campus, there have already been notable outbreaks of the virus. This confirms the concerns that parents indicated in response to the survey. Forty percent (40%) of parents said they do not trust college students to follow public health guidance, such as social distancing, wearing masks or limiting gatherings to small groups. Their concern about following guidelines increased when students were unsupervised. Sixty percent (60%) of parents don’t believe students will follow public health guidance when administrators, faculty and staff are not around to enforce such safety measures.
How to Boost Parents’ Confidence
When asked to rank how potential solutions or support services would impact their confidence, parents consistently ranked the enforcement of social distancing at the top of their priorities. Regular COVID-19 testing was ranked second. The addition of 24/7 telehealth for physical and mental health care ranked third.
However, in COVID-19 hotspots California and Florida, telehealth as a way to care for students rose to the second highest priority, just behind the enforcement of social distancing. With 71% of parents indicating that they were at least moderately concerned about their students’ mental health, telehealth can make a difference.
“It’s common for parents to have some level of worry or concern as their children leave home, but the pandemic is elevating concern for parents — especially regarding their children’s mental health,” said Dr. Jan Hall, executive director of mental health at TimelyMD. “They want them to have success academically and socially during their college years. However, the uncertainty around higher education due to COVID-19 is causing both students and parents to worry about what comes next.
“One way to help alleviate some anxiety for parents is the availability of 24/7 medical and mental health services to care for students.”
With remote learning continuing for many students, telehealth services enable colleges and universities to extend campus mental health care services to students, no matter where they’re located.
About the Survey
From July 27 to 29, 2020, TimelyMD conducted a statistically significant nationwide survey of 591 parents and legal guardians of students enrolled at two- and four-year colleges and universities regarding the impact of COVID-19 on fall semester plans.