The Educational Uncertainty of COVID-19

By Romelo Wilson

As the new academic year approaches, many students are facing uncertainty while their schools continue to modify how they’re going to operate under the COVID-19 pandemic.

The policy for the Fall semester at The University of Tampa is that students will return to in-person learning on Wednesday, Aug. 26, but after the Thanksgiving break classes will switch to online for the last week. Throughout the face-to-face learning, students will be expected to “invoke the Spartan Code” and follow policies that are focused on limiting the spread throughout campus.

Although public health is still a concern for some students, others are concerned about finances regarding paying for the upcoming semester. There are some universities that are attempting to relieve some of the financial stress, but most are modifying the way they’re going to operate without modifying the costs.

“I’m all good with him remaining at home for online. Safety is first and he has always been a self-learner… but he doesn’t have a full free ride. The price tag for online is the same and doesn’t come with the full ‘senior experience’, said Mickey Dixon, 43.

Dixon’s son attends school in Los Angeles, California, at Claremont McKenna College. They’ve decided to operate completely online but leave on-campus housing open for students who absolutely need it. According to Sallie Mae, most  parents in the U.S. pay for their child’s college education.

COVID-19 hasn’t only impacted college operations in the fall, but it has also affected income for numerous families. The financial concern has students reconsidering attending college in the fall. According to the American Council on Education, most colleges expect to see an overall enrollment decrease of 15%.

The uncertainty surrounding whether it’s worth attending college in the fall also has high school seniors changing their minds about enrollment. A survey done by Simpson Scarborough found that one in five high school seniors believe that they are likely not going to attend college next semester due to COVID-19.

Some students understand the severity of the virus and would understand a college’s choice to operate completely online. At the same time, it’s not the preferred choice due to what some dealt with when the remainder of the previous spring semester switched to Zoom learning.

“I feel that distractions are easily accessible at home,” said Amberlyn Torres, a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “I had way more assignments online than in person because the professors tried to make up for the ‘lost’ class time.”

This sentiment seems to be common amongst students across the country. It’s come to a point where there are three solutions: risk being infected during in-person classes, struggle completing a full course load online, or delay furthering their education by taking the semester off. 

It’s a difficult time for students, especially because most of the power is in the hands of college administrations. Beyond that, next semester’s operations also lie in the hands of the Trump administration that threatened to cut funding to schools if they do not fully reopen. Students want to continue their education smoothly, but they also don’t want to put their health at risk, along with their family’s health if they live at home.

“It’s funny though because even though I feel like that, I’m still willing to take the risk to further my education,” said Jesireé Nathaniel, a student attending Hunter College in the fall. Nathaniel is a commuter student that has to take an hour trip by NYC public transportation to get to campus. She believes it’s less of a health risk to have classes online while also feeling that her performance would be better with face-to-face learning. 

Since the breakout of the pandemic there has been a common misconception that younger people can’t fall ill to the virus. There are some students that aren’t necessarily scared of catching the virus, they’re more worried about passing it on to the people they live with. Along with that, they’re more worried about how their higher education is going to play out during and after the pandemic.

Students also aren’t confident in everyone following the guidelines and preventative measures regarding limiting the spread of the virus. According to USA Today, younger people have been a catalyst for coronavirus outbreaks happening this summer. A major part of college culture is the party scene, including frat parties, tailgates, bars, and clubs. Depending on the state, there’s no limitation to where students can go to parties.

Schools can implement ways to regulate the spread while students are on campus with mandated masks and smaller class sizes, but once students leave the campus it’s up to them to decide if they want to continue following CDC guidelines. Emilie Raguso, with Berkeleyside, mentioned in her article that UC Berkeley had 47 new COVID-19 cases in a single week as a result of parties connected to Greek life.   

“There will definitely be parties,” said Thomas Heslop, a senior at Howard University, “because students have been away from their friends and locked away in their homes for months.”

We can only hope for students to act in the interest of public health, but there’s no way to guarantee that outside of the school’s campus. It’s a very complex situation when deciding how to operate in the fall for all parties involved. However, as long as students abide by the regulations being put into action, we won’t see an upsurge in COVID-19 cases.

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