I remember learning about Harvard’s decision to close and evict all of its students due to the growing concern of COVID-19. I knew it was only a matter of time before Bard would have to close and implement social distancing measures similar to those happening at universities across the country. I began planning how I would evacuate and leave the Bard community. For the remaining classes that week, all I really thought about was the uncertainty that was about to unfold in my life.
Bard transitioned to remote learning on Thursday, March 12. Fortunately, it did not evict all students and decided to remain open for “those who need to remain for personal or academic reasons, and understands and supports the decision by those who can do so to return home.” I began preparing for my route then, but quickly realized I could not fly home as it would put me at risk of contracting the virus. I have an immunocompromised father who I was afraid of possibly transmitting the virus if I were to be exposed on my travels home. I began assessing my options and decided to join a family friend in Providence, RI, who would potentially drive home to Atlanta, GA.
Three weeks later, I am still in Providence, RI waiting to drive home while COVID-19 has continued to disrupt the world around me and put me in an extremely compromising position. I am unable to depend on parents during this crisis as they are both now unemployed and unsure whether they will be able to return to their jobs. Instead, I have been finding ways to help them out. I have missed rent for my off-campus housing because I do not have sufficient money to cover it as I would rather cover my groceries. I think, like many students, I’m struggling to stay focused on school in these crazy times. Students are still processing having to leave college early, from rushed goodbyes to missing spring semester senior traditions. For graduating seniors, like myself, this is even more difficult.
Practically every senior I know is anxiously awaiting the end of the pandemic, and has a growing fear about our future job prospects and life after this. With internships canceled and entry-level positions delaying their start dates, it has all become very grim. Last week, according to the Labor Department, nearly 6.65 million people filed for unemployment benefits. It is assumed that “the hiring situation will probably get worse over the next few months, as closures and cancellations ripple across the economy.” For those of us with student loans, there is even more stress. In order to help pay for school, I took out student loans in the hopes that I would find a job after graduation and be able to pay those loans back. I tried to be smart with loan amounts and decided to graduate a semester earlier to limit the amount of debt I would accumulate at the end of college. As the daughter of immigrants and a first-generation low-income college student, going to college was a path to becoming financially independent. As I have read about current solutions to stimulate the economy, college students seem to be generally left out of the equation, especially those of us who are graduating. For example, the latest stimulus bill has college students who are claimed as dependents excluded from stimulus checks. That is roughly about “20 million college students who are claimed by their parents as dependents. They won’t get checks, and their parents won’t get an extra $500.”
As we approach completing our degrees, it is crucial for policymakers to consider how policies impact college students. We are struggling with student debt and our families are depending on us but we are entering the workforce at an unprecedented time and with an uncertain future.