Although two-thirds of students said they did not regret their Fall 2020 enrollment decision, 76% of students said their mental health was worse during the fall semester than during a typical semester and nearly two in three students broke Covid-19 health protocols, according to a Campus survey. Other major findings include:
- More than a third of students — 38% — said the semester exceeded expectations, while almost 40% said that it was worse than expected.
- Almost half of students said that they disapproved of the administration’s handling of the fall semester.
- A vast majority of students, 75%, said they felt stressed about their relationships this semester.
- Students emphasized increasing social opportunities for students, promoting inclusivity and providing greater clarity on Covid-19 safety rules when suggesting improvements for the spring.
At the end of the survey, we also offered students the opportunity to anonymously share their ideas on how to make the spring 2021 semester better and provide any additional anecdotes from the semester. We have included some of these anonymous responses throughout this article and compiled specific student suggestions for improving the spring semester.
The data reveal a striking lack of consensus regarding how the fall semester went: while 38% of students said the semester exceeded their expectations, nearly 40% of students said the semester was worse than they expected. About a quarter of students said the semester was about the same as they expected.
In the anecdotal responses, many students wished for more in-person classes. “Middlebury should prioritize its primary duty, which is to educate its students to the best of its abilities by making every possible effort to make classes in-person,” wrote one student.
Satisfaction with the fall semester also varied by class year. While one in three members of the classes of 2021 or 2021.5 said the semester was worse than they expected, one half of respondents from the classes of 2023 or 2023.5 said the semester fell below expectations.
The vast majority of respondents, 87.5%, said they took four courses during the fall semester. A third of students indicated that two of their courses had in-person components, while 17% of students said they had zero classes with in-person components. The average student had in-person components in roughly half — 45% — of their courses.
Approval of college entities
Of the six different entities we asked students to evaluate, Middlebury faculty enjoyed by far the highest approval rating. Still, in their anecdotal responses, students said they hoped that faculty would be more “lenient,” “understanding” and “flexible” during the spring semester. Some students wished faculty would go one step further and lighten students’ workloads.
“It seems like professors are concerned that reducing workloads means that we're learning less and not getting enough for our money,” one respondent wrote. “But the stress and depression of this fall made it so hard to learn that covering less material would be beneficial and we would actually learn more.”
Almost half of students, or 47%, disapproved of the administration, while a quarter approved of it. Some students said they thought Covid-19 policies were unrealistic or unclearly communicated in their anecdotal responses. “I hope that there can be more dialogue between students and administrators to understand how to better create rules that students will actually follow and feel safe,” one wrote.
Fall satisfaction and spring intentions
Overall, two in three students said they did not regret their enrollment decision. One-tenth of respondents said they regretted their decision, and a quarter of students said they regretted the decision “somewhat.”
“I am not returning Middlebury in the Spring as they never fulfilled most of the things they told us they would throughout the semester,” one student wrote.
If students’ intended spring plans are an indication of enrollment rates for the spring semester, Middlebury may see fewer students on campus this spring. 68% of students who said they intend to enroll as an on-campus student in the spring, compared to the 87% of respondents who identified as on-campus learners in the fall.
Compared to the 3.5% of students who took the semester off in the fall, 10% of respondents said they would not enroll or take the semester off.
One senior student said they were part of a group of friends leaving campus in the spring as a result of the strict rules. “It’s not how I wanted to spend my senior spring but we can’t deal with the rules on campus and just want to be able to be together for our last few months,” the student wrote.
An additional 9% of students were unsure of their spring plans. The number of remote students and the number of students living off-campus but taking classes on-campus is projected to remain the same for the spring at about 7% and under 3% respectively.
Covid-19 policies, rules, and guidelines
Almost two in every three respondents — 64% — indicated that they broke Covid-19 safety rules this semester. A third of respondents said they exceeded room or suite capacity during the semester and a fourth of students reported having more than four close contacts. More than one in every ten — 13% — of students said they participated in a party or gathering with more than 10 people.
One respondent said they were with as many as 30 other people in a house or suite without masks “every weekend.” The respondent added, “The rules were too strict. If I had followed them I would have become depressed.”
Some respondents believed that Covid-19 policies were enforced unevenly. “The inconsistency in punishment for breaking the Covid rules was absolutely unreal,” one respondent wrote. “Do not create a rule if it will not and cannot be enforced consistently.”
Students greatly differed in their understanding of Middlebury’s Covid-19 policies. Nearly half of students said they felt confused by guidelines, compared to the 43% that said they were clear. “I worried pretty constantly that I would get reported for something that was me misunderstanding the rules and be kicked off campus,” one student responded.
The survey finds a striking decline in student mental health during the fall semester.
Three-fourths of students said their mental health was worse than it has been during a typical semester. The three factors most likely to affect student mental health this semester were stress about an uncertain future amid the pandemic, stress about academic work and anxiety over friendships or “fear of missing out,” according to survey results.
“The one thing that was amazing was my professors, but it is hard to motivate oneself to do work when you feel miserable all the time,” one student wrote.
Two-thirds of students reported feeling greater social isolation than in a normal semester, and almost a third of respondents experienced significant changes in their diet which led to either weight loss or gain. Nearly one in 10 students experienced intrusive thoughts of suicide which worsened during the semester.
Three-fourths of students felt stressed about their relationships. Some students expressed that the Covid-19 restrictions implemented by the college were successful in limiting cases of virus, but did so at the expense of students’ mental health. One student put it succinctly: “Mental health is just as important as physical health.” Others said they experienced mental strain due to the inability to socialize with friends or the fear of being punished for breaking Covid-19 rules.
This survey was sent to about 2,500 Middlebury students studying both remotely and on campus, and 549 — slightly less than quarter — responded. Eighty-seven percent of respondents were on-campus students this past fall, 2.3% of respondents lived off-campus but took classes on campus and 6.9% of respondents were remote students.
Respondents were fairly evenly distributed by class year, with a slight majority of respondents coming from the classes of 2022 and 2022.5 at 28.2%.
Three-quarters of respondents identified as white, 8.4% as Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander, 6% as of Latino or Hispanic Origin, 6% as biracial or multiracial, and 1.6% as Black or African American. Thirty-one or 5.6% of respondents identified as international students.
Slightly more than one-third of respondents said they receive financial aid.
Ideas from Student Responses for an improved Spring 2021 semester
80% of students said that they thought spaces for hanging out or socializing were inadequate. 75% of students said they thought there was inadequate space for hosting events.
In the anecdotal responses, students repeatedly said they hoped for more in-person social opportunities in the spring, either facilitated by the college or through extracurricular activities, and improved access to spaces for socializing. One respondent wanted “more opportunities for virtual students to stay connected to campus events with students in person.”
Other student ideas included having heaters for tents, changing policies so that it is easier to register events and providing “funding for students to figure out how to make their own fun.”
Several students said they would be willing to sacrifice off-campus privileges in order to make on-campus rules less strict.
Some anecdotal responses mentioned the ways in which rules and policies create different playing fields for different students.
“This semester exasperated the divide between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' because the students who had access to a car to drive places in Addison County tended to have a better experience overall than those who didn't,” wrote the student, adding that they wished the college provided a “rent-a-car” service for students.
“Promote inclusivity,” wrote another student. “White students spend time with white students and are intimidating to students of color. There is an apparent divide.”
Other students felt that they had to exclude friends from social gatherings due to capacity limits. One student felt particularly strongly about Covid-19 policies capping the number of people in a room: “Rules [related to Covid-19] essentially required us to ruin our friendships.”
One student said that they hoped students would be allowed to rank their preferred dining hall. “Some dining halls have a reputation of being predominantly white spaces, whereas other dining halls have a perception of being more inclusive to BIPOC students,” the student wrote.
Creation and Communication of Covid-19 Policies
Some students hoped for student input regarding Covid-19 policies. One respondent recommended that new rules should first be run by Residential Life.
Several students perceived the college’s Covid-19 guidelines to be vague and worried that they would accidentally break a rule. “I wish that it was more clear what people [were] disciplined for,” wrote a student. Another student hoped for “more concise guidelines from fewer sources.”
Editor’s Note: Survey questions pertaining to mental health were designed in conjunction with the Student Government Association Health and Wellness Committee.