The Majority of Students Will Be Going to School Online This Fall

Sep 03 2020

School is starting, but not like it ever has before. Here’s the data on Gen Z student’s back to school reality, and how they and Millennial parents are feeling about going back…

In the lead up to this truly unprecedented school year, we’ve been checking in with young consumers, and young parents, regularly to keep tabs on their plans and feelings about the fall semester. Now, that fall semester is here, and our latest data shows what Gen Z students’ and Millennial parents’ education realities will be for the coming months. While colleges and schools across the country have been prepping for in-person education, our most recent survey of 13-39-year-olds shows that the majority of students will be going to school online this fall:

Almost seven in ten college students say that they are attending school online this fall. For most students, college now takes place anywhere they want. The New York Times reports that while many will be attending courses from their childhood homes, others have opted to create “college collab houses” renting large spaces in faraway locations like Hawaii, Las Vegas, and even Barbados. Of course, many will more likely be learning remotely from their childhood bedrooms, which Fast Company reports has sparked a redecorating trend for this demo. With inspiration from Pinterest, college students are repainting and reorganizing their bedrooms in preparation of remote learning in the fall. Bed Bath & Beyond recently launched a “College From Home” section, for accent rugs, storage boxes, and curtains. According to the retailer, searches for desks and office chairs on their site were up more than 200% compared to last year. Brands have a clear opportunity to step in to cater to the new at-home learning realities. In early August we found that students and parents were planning to stock up on supplied for remote schooling, and retailers have been reporting that sales of tech for online classes and items like educational activity books are booming.

Middle and high school students are more likely to say they’ll be attending school in person, but 50% say they will be online-only, and over a quarter are planning for hybrid learning—schedules for students to attend school on alternating days to limit class sizes and maintain social distancing. Middle and high school students were also more likely to say that their schools had not yet made a decision about in-person classes. With this survey fielded just a two weeks ago, this is a clear indication of how many schools and families are making last-minute decisions and adjustments.

And our data found that the majority of students and Millennial parents actually don’t think that schools should be open at all:

Three quarters of college students and over half of Millennial parents and younger students told YPulse that they don’t think schools should be open for in-person classes this fall. While over half of students agreed that remote learning is “too difficult” they’re clearly not comfortable with going to school during a pandemic, which the majority now believe will last more than six month longer. When YPulse asked when students would be comfortable returning, over half told us not until a vaccine or cure for COVID-19 is available, compared to 35% of middle/high school students and 21% of college students who said they would go back as soon as they are allowed.

As our report on Gen Z’s education interrupted found, college students are especially fearful about returning to schools, and open to continuing an online education:

The majority of all students tell YPulse they feel overwhelmed when thinking about the upcoming fall school semester, and most students say that they are afraid to go back to school in-person. But college students are most likely to see this change to their school plans as permanent, with the majority saying that they’d like to continue with their remote education even after the threat of COVID-19 has passed. We could very well be on the precipice of a massive rebuilding of the higher ed system. Already, schools like Howard University and Wake Forest are bulking up their online offering, launching “a slew” of online MBA programs. Gen Z’s college years are very likely going to look different from every generation before them.

But it’s not just their college years that could look different. When we look at how Millennial parents are feeling about this school year, there are clear indications that grade-school Gen Z kids are also having their educational path rewritten:

The majority of Millennial parents tell us that they are afraid to send their kids back to school in person. In fact, according to a Harris Poll, 57% of parents want schools to be cancelled and reopened in the spring instead of having to choose between in-person schooling or hybrid schedules. The effect that at-home learning will have on their careers is a likely reason, with almost half of all Millennial parents agreeing that their kids’ remote education will impact their work. As a result, many are looking at DIY solutions that will keep kids out of classrooms but keep them from becoming full-time teachers’ assistants. The majority tell us that they are considering a learning pod for their kids if they attend school remotely. Learning pods are small groups of kids that learn together in-homes, with the group of parents taking turns acting as educator. the fact that the majority of young parents are considering this solution is significant. They’re making up a new educational system for their kids in real-time. As they figure out what to do next, these parents will be looking for support, and the solution to a whole new set of challenges. Brands could and should be stepping in to help them figure out how to turn homes into classrooms, lunchrooms, and gyms and navigate home-schooling with less stress.