College Students VS Coronavirus

College Students VS Coronavirus

By Lily Erb, Content Writer

As the new school year approaches, college students across America are left scrambling to figure out their plan for attending school during the pandemic. In March, the coronavirus outbreak forced many colleges and universities to shut down mid-semester. Students finished their remaining courses online, and senior students lost the few remaining months of their college experience. Before the severity of the pandemic became apparent, most students and faculty members assumed school would resume in the fall. Coronavirus cases in America have risen, not fallen, and COVID-19 still presents a unique roadblock to the process of reopening institutions. 

Although online learning presents a lower risk of transmitting COVID-19, many students found it detrimental to their education. It’s harder to focus on class when a student is not in an academic environment. Some students lack the resources necessary for quality online courses, such as reliable internet connection, laptops, microphones, and video cameras. Some courses, such as labs and visual arts courses, are impossible to teach remotely due to their hands-on, experiential nature. Students who live in a time zone that is different from their institution face even more issues, such as an 8 AM class on the east coast becoming a 5 AM class on the west coast. For all these reasons and more, many students are adverse to returning to an online education.

Some colleges have made the decision not to return to in-person instruction, continuing to teach fully online. Other colleges are implementing both strategies, incorporating both on-campus learning and online classes into their Fall 2020 plans. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, 46% of colleges plan to hold a portion, if not all, of their courses online. Some colleges are utilizing a “phased reopening” plan, meaning small groups of students would be brought on campus one at a time. Although all institutions have created unique and varying plans, one thing is for certain: the “college experience” will not be the same as it has been in previous years. 

Gone are the days of easy hang-outs, dorm parties, and extracurricular activities. Most college sports and theatre productions have been postponed or canceled. In-person classes will be socially distanced, with students spaced out far and wide in classrooms. Mask wearing will be mandatory, and not wearing a mask could result in some serious repercussions such as suspension or expulsion. Coronavirus testing will be routine. Contact tracing and forced quarantine will be implemented in order to attempt to prevent sudden campus-wide outbreaks. Since most social activity will be prohibited, students living on campus will spend the majority of their time in their dorms, only going out for meals or classes. 

Despite the college experience changing drastically, many schools are not offering reduced tuition. Many students feel as if they will be paying full price for a fraction of the experience they originally were willing to pay for. According to CNBC, over 93% of students feel that if courses are delivered online, tuition should be lowered. While students may feel that they’re paying for more than they’re receiving, colleges disagree. Colleges which are opening campuses, even partially, say that they have spent more money on COVID-19 prevention protocols, such as faculty training and ventilation system upgrades. Colleges that return to a completely remote system insist that neither the value of the information nor the cost of instruction has decreased, and that more equipment is required to teach remotely. 

The possibility of going back to campus is also unnerving for some students. College campuses create environments conducive to coronavirus spread. Students are living in close proximity, eating and sleeping at the same facilities. It is optimistic and unrealistic to think that every college student would responsibly isolate themselves and refrain from unnecessary social interactions. Within a campus setting, it would only take one sick student or faculty member to cause a massive outbreak. In Florida, one of the states where the coronavirus cases are surging, many colleges are still planning on resuming in-person classes. Tampa Bay Times reports that the union representing faculty at public Florida institutes is rally against reopening, saying that opening campuses in Florida will create “superspreader sites.” Many students don’t want to return to in-person classes if there’s a higher risk of getting sick.

Students are considering all of these factors when reviewing their options for the Fall 2020 semester. Many students are considering taking a gap year or gap semester, hoping that things will be closer to normal when they return to school. Taking a break from school is not an uncommon practice. In 2016, The Boston Globe reported that gap years are becoming more popular among American college students. During gap years, students typically take time to work, travel, and have meaningful volunteer experiences abroad. Gap years are most commonly taken in the transitional period between high school and college, although most universities allow students to defer enrollment during any period of their education. Because of COVID-19, many of the typical activities students pursue during gap years won’t be available. Although traveling and volunteering abroad are not strictly off limits, now is probably not the best time to be considering those options. However, there are still opportunities students who choose to take a gap year can pursue, such as remote internships, jobs, and local volunteer work. Some students are also choosing to take online classes at their local community colleges to save money. While their regular institutions are charging full price for online instruction, local schools may be offering interchangeable classes for a fraction of the cost. 

There is no right answer to any of these options. The option to take a gap semester is not available to every student. Students with certain student loan programs cannot take off a semester without risking early loan payments. Students with at risk family members may feel they need to move back into their dorms in order to prevent putting their family in danger. Students who want to graduate on time don’t want to set themselves back by a semester. So many factors go into choosing whether or not to return to school, and it is up to the individual needs of each student to determine what path is right for them.

Smart Shop was founded by Joseph Chionchio, a college student who’s senior year ended early due to the spread of coronavirus. Similar to Joseph, Co-Owner Jack Kelly was also a college senior when the pandemic hit. I’m a rising junior, and I’m planning on taking the upcoming semester off for a variety of different reasons, including my financial needs and safety. As Smart Shop has grown, we have taken care to employ many college students who’s educations have been disrupted by the pandemic. Many people who work within our company, from the people delivering groceries, handling finances, and running our various social media accounts are all college students. We empathize with all college students across America during this stressful, confusing time. By supporting Smart Shop, you’re doing a small part to help and support displaced college students across America. 

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