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Climate advisory - Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success

 April 27, 2020

by Aashir Nasim, Ph.D.
Vice President, Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success
Director and Professor, Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation


About the April 23, 2020 survey administration. Climatext was administered on April 23, 2020 to a representative sample of 602 VCU students. VCU students responded to the prompt "How are you feeling about returning to campus this fall semester?" A total of 281 students, or 46.7% of the total sampling population, responded within 24-hours. The observed sample consisted of 74.3% women, 47.1% minority, 28.9% Pell-eligible and 24.3% first-generation students across 54 degree programs and majors. Student sentiment scores ranged between -1.00 (negative) to +1.00 (positive). Both actual and adjusted (re-coded) scores are presented. Below, we provide a summary of the findings. 

Overall. VCU students expressed moderately positive sentiment (0.184; 0.180, adjusted) about returning to campus in the fall semester following the university’s transition to remote instruction in March 2020. Students' positive sentiment seemed relatively robust across all student demographic groups, with first-generation and on-campus students expressing a greater eagerness and sense of hope and optimism about returning than their classmates. This finding was not surprising given a previous report (#CA-2020-03) that detailed how VCU’s built environment mattered for first-generation and on-campus students in ways not altogether experienced by other students. The pandemic’s dismantling of the built environment altered access to educational affordances that especially benefited first-generation students as well as on-campus affordances that uniquely appealed to residential students.

First-Generation. First generation students’ (0.296; 0.296, adjusted) expressed significantly (p < .05) higher levels of positive sentiment than multi-generation college students (0.148; 0.143, adjusted). A salient theme among first-generation students was their eagerness to recover the educational affordances provided before the pandemic, specifically VCU’s student-centered programming and in-person teaching. For instance:

  • "I can’t wait to return to campus. I hope we are allowed to, otherwise I fear my grades and may consider dropping out."
  • "I am begging desperately to return in the fall. If VCU tries to make the semester online, I will take a gap year."
  • "I would be comfortable with it only if Pass/Fail option is still in place."
  • "I would be thrilled to return to campus this fall because online school is exhausting."

Several other first-generation students expressed hope and optimism for reacquainting themselves with college life and the benefits of faculty-student engagement and other interpersonal experiences. For instance:

  • "I feel hopeful and relieved because I loved face to face interactions with my professors."
  • "I honestly just want to go back so bad. I miss campus so much and the interactions with people. I really took being outside and engaged with the world for granted, because being inside is not me. Can’t do it."
  • "im [sic] excited about returning to campus and i really hope that we will be able to do so. i have been missing campus and richmond on the who [sic] so I am looking forward to being back."

Still, another prominent theme among first-generation students was their being afforded opportunities to pursue their own pathways to independence. First-generation students likely were beginning to adjust and to figure out college, and a rather abrupt return to home may have served as impetus for wanting a return to campus life sooner rather than later. For instance:

  • "I honestly can’t wait. Living at home is not the best situation. Through the facts about corona virus possibly being here to till winter is scaring me. I just want to leave this horrible place."
  • "I just hope that we’re able to. I can’t stay in my hometown with my parents any longer."
  • "I am excited to come back. Hopefully this virus will die down so we can come back."
  • "I am wary that we are not going to get to return to campus, scared they are going to take it back. But I am excited and hopeful, I’m not taking school for granted again."
  • "I am every excited, because vcu gives me my freedom and I am able to be myself. I can’t wait for August."

On-Campus. Residential students (0.280; 0.272, adjusted) were significantly (p < .05) more positive and optimistic about a return to campus in the fall than their off-campus counterparts (0.138; 0.136, adjusted). On-campus residents likely contribute to and draw greater support from VCU’s built environment than off-campus students. As such, on-campus residents desire to return this fall semester is perhaps directly related to their extended engagement. For instance:

  • "I am very excited! I hope that VCU makes up for us not having a Homecoming concert OR spring concert. I am still eager to get back to my friends because I am struggling being alone."
  • "I’m a little concerned about the amount of anxiety of other students and how that would affect participation of extracurricular and events, but I’m more than excited to come back."
  • "I’m excited! I’m ready to experience college again, and all that VCU and the surrounding area has to offer. I am a bit apprehensive about returning to full blown classes, but it’s what I signed up for so I’ll do it."
  • "I really excited. The student orgs that I’m apart [sic] of are starting to plan already and I can’t wait. I miss my friends and my home!"

About Climatext. VCU’s Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success (IES) administers Climatext as part of the university’s proactive monitoring and response plan to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Climatext assesses student sentiment resulting from their information exposure and experiences related to COVID-19. Sentiment scores range from negative-to neutral (-1.00 to 0.00) and from neutral-to-positive (0.00 to +1.00). Climatext produces a real-time data summary for the general student population as well as student subpopulations. Data are collected and coded using proprietary software conceptualized and developed by Sam Yerkes, Jim Yucha, and Aashir Nasim. Results are used to inform the university’s strategic communications efforts and support services that address student needs.