Politics Outweighed COVID Severity in Reopening Decisions

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The political leaning of the county in which a college or university is located is the factor most closely associated with whether it offered in-person or remote instruction in fall 2020, research released Tuesday shows. The article, published in Springer’s Research in Higher Education, finds that the severity of the pandemic near a college and sociopolitical factors in its state were also associated with institutional decisions on how to offer instruction.

State political factors were a stronger factor for four-year public institutions than for four-year private or community colleges, while county political preferences had a stronger effect on four-year private and two-year public institutions.

“Given that in-person instruction was associated with increased COVID-19 incidence in the local area,” the authors write, “polarization, political identification, and institutions feeling compelled to operate as politicized entities (to stay close to the ‘in-group’) likely made the severity of the pandemic worse. These outcomes are aligned with the general findings [of previous research] that institutions seemed to give more weight to sociopolitical features over pandemic severity when choosing in-person instruction for Fall 2020.”

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