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College students must now study and complete coursework and lectures on their laptops while staying home. (Photo via Annie Spratt on Unsplash)

San Diego college students share how coronavirus has impacted their studies

Coronavirus caused universities to suddenly transition spring courses to an online platform; college students encountered several obstacles in the process

College seniors were preparing for the end of their undergraduate careers to enter the professional world. Suddenly, classes moved online, their campuses began to close and then graduations were postponed or even canceled. Throughout the month of March, universities across the nation began closing their campuses and sending students home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. State governments began closing down businesses, parks and beaches to prevent people from contracting coronavirus.

Concerts and events have been canceled through the summer in some areas such as New York and California. Many students suddenly found themselves moving out of their college housing and back to their parents’ houses with no choice but to finish their spring classes fully online.

The loss of the final college semester

Malia Redmon, a senior studying business management at San Diego State University, expressed conflicted feelings over how her last semester as an undergraduate student ended.

“I wish the university would have been better about giving us a heads-up about things like needing to move out (of our dorms) or knowing that our last day of class was going to be our last day of class,” Redmon said. “As a senior, I wasn’t prepared for the fact that I was sitting in my last undergraduate degree class until it was over.”

Liz Snyder, a senior graduating from the University of California Irvine, said she and fellow students have major concerns about how to afford to pay rent for a place they now aren’t living in.

“They didn’t offer any real financial compensation for going online,” Snyder said. “I got an email saying that if anything the campus is spending more money running a virtual campus so our tuition is going to stay the same. I think our chancellor’s salary proves that there is a lot of disposable income in the institution, and that money should be going to students during this crisis.”

The cost of tuition each year at UC Irvine is $13,700 for California residents like Liz Snyder. For out of state students, tuition costs over $43,400 every year. According to transparentcalifornia.com, UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman was paid over $520,000 in 2018, an increase of over $15,000 from 2017.

College campuses started asking students to vacate their housing at various times before Gov. Gavin Newsom enacted a stay-at-home mandate on March 20 for California. Students were moving out even before the 20th since counties in the Bay Area issued their stay at home orders to begin even earlier on March 17.

Some schools gave weeks of notice, and some gave a few days or less for students to move out, all while students were expected to complete classwork and possibly deal with the loss of their jobs.

“I need some rent assistance,” Snyder said. “The Irvine Co. has only offered me two months of rent deferral, so we still owe everything. I just lost my research job for the rest of the school year because the campus is closed, so now I have no income. It’s insidious that they still expect to profit off of us in the middle of a pandemic.”

According to the Irvine Co.’s Resident Rent Assistance page, it is offering a partial rent deferment if the resident fills out the required paperwork and gets approved.

“Irvine Company recognizes that families and businesses are facing health and economic hardships due to the significant impact of the COVID-19 virus, and we’re committed to providing support for those who need it,” the firm said in an online statement. “For the month of May, we are offering you the option to pay only 50% of your rent and pay the balance interest-free over the following six months. F‌or example, if your rent is $2,400/month, pay $1,200 in May, and then add an additional $400 per month to your rent for the following six months.”

The usual places students go to complete schoolwork such as coffee shops are now closed. Students are limited to their homes to finish courses. (Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.)

Finding new ways to keep students connected from home

Some schools used this online transition as a new opportunity to continue connecting with their students and keeping them as healthy as possible, both physically and mentally. Pace University, a school in New York, ended in-person instruction after extending its students’ spring break.

Amanda Fedele, a Pace University undergraduate student, said her school used their student fees to start online exercises.

“The student activities program runs daily activities to help us feel engaged and entertained,” Fedele said. “They used the funding that was allocated for this semester to pay for virtual dance classes, magic shows, and raffle prizes. I won three prizes in one week. I’m very proud of the hard work they are doing and how strong they have stayed as a department through all of this.”

On top of the loss of on-campus resources such as the library or in-person office hours, not all professors have adjusted their courses in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are some professors that are handling this very poorly,” Redmon said. “They are not responsive at all and I hardly ever know what is going on in the class. Others are doing a great job of keeping us updated as much as possible.”

How San Diego colleges began closing campuses

Throughout the month of April, San Diego State held emergency University Senate meetings to discuss adjusting its withdrawal deadline and whether or not to expand credit/no credit class options, according to The Daily Aztec. After initially not expanding major classes to be taken for credit, a petition circulated among the student body, and after a follow-up University Senate meeting, San Diego State approved the motion.

Other schools implemented this kind of academic assistance weeks before SDSU did.

Paige Awtrey, a transfer student attending the University of California San Diego, experienced this transition in the middle of her winter quarter finals and returned after spring break to an entire quarter of online instruction.

“UCSD was one of the first schools to announce the shift to online school,” Awtrey said. “March is finals for UC San Diego so the university required professors to administer online finals or an equivalent project. They allowed students living on campus to leave with a refund for spring quarter housing fees.”

Awtrey also encountered problems with off-campus rent under the same company as students attending UC Irvine.

“They (Irvine Co.) sent an email to remind us we can pay our rent online rather than by check,” she said. “We are still charged for facilities even though we’ve had no access to them for months.”

As California shows signs of flattening its infection curve and the spread of coronavirus, questions still remain about when the state will open back up. College students are enrolling for the fall semester wondering if their campuses will be back open again, or if there will be another semester of online schooling.

This project was produced by Alexandra Oslowski as a published learning experience in JMS 430 Digital Journalism, part of the Journalism and Media Studies Program at San Diego State University.

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Alexa Oslowski

Alexa Oslowski

Photo Editor at The Daily Aztec, intern at East County Magazine and journalism student at San Diego State University. I am currently creating work in JMS 550.