In a survey The State News conducted during the last week, 90% of Michigan State student respondents said they would return to campus in the fall with social distancing guidelines in place for in-person instruction, but only 79% of students said they would feel comfortable returning to campus with these social distancing measures.
The survey was conducted before MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced on Wednesday via email to the student body that classes will be held on campus beginning Sept. 2, returning to online instruction after Thanksgiving to limit the spread of people traveling home and then back to campus.
Students were asked what their plans were for the upcoming school year with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The survey asked 500 students what they would do in a variety of possible scenarios on how classes might be held and whether they would be comfortable in certain types of settings. The survey can be found here.
While this informal survey is not representative of the student population, it does provide insight as to how 500 MSU students are planning for their education during the pandemic.
When respondents were asked if they would be comfortable returning to an in-class setting with social distancing guidelines in place, approximately 5% of respondents said they would only partake in online classes at Michigan State and another 5% of the respondents answered that they were still undecided.
Despite more than 90% of students saying they would return to campus, the data shows around 11% of those students would choose not to return.
Kelsey McGraw, a fisheries and wildlife sophomore, said she would be comfortable returning to MSU if the right guidelines were in place.
“Assuming that there are options set in place, and I knew that there were actions set to ensure that it was a safe setting and we were able to social distance, I would say yes.”
However, McGraw still decided that the community college route for her in the fall made more sense for her situation, as she has decided to attend Kellogg Community College for the fall and leave the spring open.
“It was too much of a risk for me financially to get a place in East Lansing in the fall and then have online schooling and pay for that, rather than do online schooling through my community college, which is free.” McGraw said. “But assuming that this only lasts the through the fall, I will be returning to Michigan State in the spring to continue working on my degree.”
Another class format that MSU is considering is a hybrid of online and in-person classes to try to limit the amount of times students are in the classroom. McGraw took a hybrid writing class this past school year and believes it could be a viable option.
“I had a hybrid WRA (writing) class this year, and it worked really well because I had that instruction one of the days of the week and then the other days I had the classwork that I knew had to do because I had the in-person instruction, but I was able to do it on my own time, and I appreciated that because it mixed the two formats, and it actually worked really well for me.” McGraw said.
Nearly 87% of students responded that they would continue at MSU with no change if a hybrid class setting was instituted.
While the online-only option seems very unlikely considering Stanley’s announcement, we still asked students how they would feel about the online-only instruction. It is clear that the Zoom lectures were not popular, as only 70% of students said they would return to MSU if classes were all online for the upcoming school year.
The hybrid option might be more appealing for students so they can return to campus but also because some classes were very difficult online. Ashley Deaton, a microbiology and food science senior, said while some classes translated well online, many did not with her major.
“Last semester, I had two chemistry lectures that I really enjoyed having online,” Deaton said via email. “However, my unit operations course was a struggle to have to learn online. My professor tried his best, but the class consisted of a lot of field trips and in class demonstrations that really helped me grasp concepts.”
Some students with the potential of online classes said they would potentially skip a semester or more until things were back to normal, like James Madison junior Cooper Burton.
“If MSU decides to do all-online classes, I’d probably take a semester off and just work and save up money,” Burton said.
There is a drastic change in tone from the respondents when asked if they would continue on at MSU if no social distancing guidelines were put in place. Only two-thirds of respondents answered that they would continue on at Michigan State with no change, 12% of respondents said they would switch to online classes only and nearly 20% of students said they were undecided.
When the respondents were asked if they would be comfortable returning to an in-person setting with no social distancing guidelines — such as masks, limited class sizes, etc. — only 40.5% of students said they would be comfortable returning to a normal class setting.
Some classes would have a tough time staying apart in a class setting. Deaton expressed concern over how some of her labs would be held.
Deaton (Email) “There are several hands on classes that may struggle with these requirements,” Deaton said. “A lot of labs require you to be in close contact with one another for several reasons that cannot be avoided. You may be trying to adjust a microscope and be having a bit of difficulties, the natural response to this issue would be to call over a TA to help you perform the proper adjustments and figure out what you are doing wrong. ... Acts like this put you within 6 feet of people all the time.”
As the 2020-21 school year approaches, Spartans across the world will have to weigh their own safety as to how they will continue their education going forward and will likely keep a close eye on how the university plans on keeping its students safe.