College Student Contribution to Local COVID-19 Spread: Evidence from University Spring Break Timing

38 Pages Posted: 21 May 2020 Last revised: 26 May 2020

See all articles by Daniel Mangrum

Daniel Mangrum

Federal Reserve Banks - Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Paul Niekamp

Ball State University - Department of Economics

Date Written: May 20, 2020

Abstract

We present evidence that travel by college students, identified by the timing of university spring breaks, contributed to the local spread of COVID-19. Due to the timing of university closures, students at universities with earlier spring breaks traveled and subsequently returned to campus while students at universities with later spring breaks effectively had their breaks canceled. We collect spring break dates for traditional four-year universities and link these universities to smartphone location data. To study the effect of spring break travel on the evolution of confirmed COVID-19 cases and mortality, we use a difference-in-differences identification strategy. Our estimates imply that counties with more early spring break students had higher confirmed case growth rates than counties with fewer early spring break students. We find that the increase in case growth rates peaked two weeks after students returned to campus. Consistent with secondary spread to more vulnerable populations, we find an increase in mortality growth rates that peaked four to five weeks after students returned. We trace destinations and modes of travel for university students and find that students who traveled through airports, to New York City, and to popular Florida destinations contributed more to the spread of COVID-19 than the average early spring break student. Our results suggest that universities have a unique capacity to reduce local COVID-19 spread by altering academic calendars to limit university student travel.

Keywords: COVID-19, higher education, externalities, mobility

JEL Classification: H40, I10, I23, R40

Suggested Citation

Mangrum, Daniel and Niekamp, Paul, College Student Contribution to Local COVID-19 Spread: Evidence from University Spring Break Timing (May 20, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3606811 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3606811

Daniel Mangrum (Contact Author)

Federal Reserve Banks - Federal Reserve Bank of New York ( email )

33 Liberty Street
New York, NY 10045
United States

Paul Niekamp

Ball State University - Department of Economics ( email )

Muncie, IN 47306-0340
United States

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