Colleges Pledged to Follow the Science. But Divides in Reopening Plans Reflected State Politics.

Institutional decisions about whether to reopen colleges in-person this fall correlated most strongly with state politics, not the regional public-health conditions that campus leaders said were front and center in their considerations, new research suggests.

The finding, from a pre-peer-review research and policy brief published by the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, reveals that both public and private institutions in Republican-led states were less likely to say in early August they would operate online this fall. County case numbers of Covid-19 did not have as strong of a correlation to campus decisions.

Public four-year universities in states with Republican governors were nine percentage points more likely to plan to be in person.

Over the summer, administrators cited their on-campus public-health expertise and data on the pandemic as central to decisions. But researchers found little evidence that state and county case rates were a “strong piece” of decision making, broadly.

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