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Colleges and universities with higher tuition and bigger endowments per student tended to have higher COVID-19 infection rates on campus during the coronavirus pandemic, researchers at Union College found in what they believe is the first analysis of COVID infection determinants at U.S. institutions. These findings contradict broader data indicating that poorer areas were disproportionately affected by the virus.

The study’s authors speculated that the surprising results might stem from the disparate COVID-19 policies between high-cost elite colleges and other institutions (thought they did not actually study those policies). Because elite institutions wanted to offer their students in-person education and could afford to pay for mitigation strategies like campuswide testing and quarantine facilities, they may have been willing to welcome students back to campus faster than less wealthy institutions, the authors suggested.

“Institutions that can afford to spend money to pursue educational and financial objectives through the pandemic accept somewhat higher infection rates in order to protect their students’ ability to learn, residential experience, their sunk investment in facilities, and their reputations,” the report states.

Several other factors were also correlated with higher rates of infection, according to the study, which looked at data collected by The New York Times from 1,069 institutions during the 2020–21 academic year. COVID infection rates were higher among institutions with larger shares of white students and male students. In states with Democratic governors, infection rates were equally high at public and private colleges, but in states with Republican governors, rates were higher at the public institutions.