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COVID on campus: An empirical analysis of COVID infection rates at U.S. colleges and universities


  • Lewis Davis
  • Stephen J. Schmidt
  • Sophia Zacher


We provide an empirical analysis of the determinants of cumulative COVID infection rates at 1069 U.S. colleges and universities during the 2020–21 academic year. We propose that financially constrained educational institutions faced a trade‐off between the reduction of COVID infection risks and an institution's educational, social, reputational, and financial goals. We find that cumulative infection rates are higher at wealthier institutions, measured by higher endowments per student or higher tuition rates. Institutions with lower enrollment yields in admissions also have higher COVID infection rates, perhaps reflecting the greater influence of student preferences on decision making at these institutions. Economies of scale in COVID mitigation emerge gradually over the course of the year. Finally, COVID infection rates do not differ significantly for otherwise similar public and private institutions in states with Democratic governors, but they are significantly higher for public institutions in states with Republican governors.

Suggested Citation

  • Lewis Davis & Stephen J. Schmidt & Sophia Zacher, 2023. "COVID on campus: An empirical analysis of COVID infection rates at U.S. colleges and universities," Southern Economic Journal, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 89(4), pages 1034-1055, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:soecon:v:89:y:2023:i:4:p:1034-1055
    DOI: 10.1002/soej.12627

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Musaddiq, Tareena & Stange, Kevin & Bacher-Hicks, Andrew & Goodman, Joshua, 2022. "The Pandemic’s effect on demand for public schools, homeschooling, and private schools," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 212(C).
    2. Buss, Christian & Parker, Jeffrey & Rivenburg, Jon, 2004. "Cost, quality and enrollment demand at liberal arts colleges," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 23(1), pages 57-65, February.
    3. Christopher J. Coyne & Thomas K. Duncan & Abigail R. Hall, 2021. "The political economy of state responses to infectious disease," Southern Economic Journal, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 87(4), pages 1119-1137, April.
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