Last week, I found myself packing up my apartment in Washington, D.C. The previous night was spent on a half-empty plane, traveling from my home in Los Angeles to Washington, D.C, where I had spent the last two months in American University’s Spring Semester Program. Even while surrounded by the emptiness of my bare room, the true extent of COVID-19’s impact on life as we know it did not hit me. Driving to my college in Ohio, The College of Wooster, the journey still felt like some extended Spring Break. The gravity of the situation struck me as I placed nearly all my belongings in storage with no idea when I would be back. Wooster’s small, usually bustling campus lay dormant in the face of a virus that kills indiscriminately.

         Last week, COVID-19 threw tens of millions of students’ lives into turmoil, as it did so many others. Overnight, students who lived in dorms; who had campus jobs; who were doing lab research; all found themselves without a place to be. For many, colleges are institutions of freedom. You can study what you want, live where you want, and live how you want. NYRA empowers youth to make their lives their own. College is a natural extension of that goal. When students are suddenly stripped of the freedom and opportunities that college provides, it can be a scary experience.

           Washington just passed the largest stimulus package in modern American history; a two trillion-dollar attempt to pull America back from the brink of an impending recession. While the bi-partisan package offers relief for some, it is not a complete solution to our problems. College students face unique issues that  require unique solutions.

Housing

Problem- Colleges faced the difficult decision of whether to allow  students to continue living on campus and risk contamination, or close the dorms and send students home. They chose the latter, a choice revealed to be the right one as the virus grows larger and takes more lives. However, nearly 15 million students were removed from their housing. Not all students can move back home, be it for financial reasons, safety reasons, or they are returning to an unwelcoming environment. The housing options for many of these students remain unresolved. 

Solution- Many schools continue to offer limited housing for international students. Some universities are extending housing opportunities to students outside of the international community. Vox Media covered the stories of several LGBTQ students who successfully petitioned to continue living in dorms due to extenuating circumstances. If you are a college student who cannot return home, reach out to the university for guidance. Many schools are accommodating students at this time.

Jobs

Problem- Many college students suddenly find themselves laid off or fired from their jobs — particularly on-campus jobs. For many students, part-time on-campus jobs are their only form of income. Overnight, students lost what little income they made from these jobs. Many colleges made the tough decision to close for the remainder of the year.  Now, many students have no income and struggle to make ends meet..

Solution- Several prominent universities have decided to pay at least two weeks of salary for students with on-campus jobs. Some schools, like the University of California San Diego and Princeton, are allowing some students to work remotely and continue to collect a salary.

Grades

Problem– COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the routines of students and teachers. The immediate and unprecedented switch from in-person classes to an online learning format has proven to be difficult for many. The numerous issues students now have to deal with, including housing issues, job issues, etc., make it all the more difficult to focus and succeed in classes. Asking students to handle a full course load on top of the numerous problems COVID-19 has created is unrealistic.

Solution- Colleges need to offer pass/fail options to students for the rest of the semester. For many students, especially those coming from vulnerable populations or with unstable living situations, the impact of COVID-19 will be substantial. And it would be unfair to penalize these students, relative to their more privileged peers, just because of their unique circumstances. Students whose lives are changed drastically by COVID-19 will benefit from a relaxed grading system. Moreover, letter grade options may still exist for students who would like to continue using that system.

Refunds

Problem- Students take out loans to pay thousands of dollars for tuition and housing while in college. And some families contribute much of their life savings so that their children can attend college. Students now have no housing, no access to a college meal plan, and limited education opportunities. Students pay tuition to access labs and libraries that are now shut down.

Solution- Some schools are offering a fraction of a full refund for room and board. Schools are not offering refunds on tuition due to the switch to online platforms for learning. Students should check with their universities on refund status.

University students across America have joined together to face this adversity. Many students have created and signed petitions advocating for numerous changes. A Florida petition for expanding pass/fail options has amassed 80,000 student signatures across six major Florida colleges. Students can make their voices heard by creating and spreading petitions as well as emailing their administrators. While America and higher education face turbulent times, the enduring spirit of American youth will persist as a voice for change, as it always has.