As the Pandemic Continues, How Has Higher Education Failed Gen-Z?

COVID-19 has touched everyone’s lives around the world for the past 5 or so months. Despite many countries, states and cities opening back up after weeks to months of lockdown, the future is still uncertain for what the end of the infamous 2020 will look like. The United States, a country that has been polarized since its founding, has an even more uncertain future as elections go on. Last month, during a White House Press Briefing regarding COVID-19, President Donald Trump stated, “We’re transitioning to greatness, and the greatness is going to be in the fourth quarter, but it’s really going to be next year, and it’s going to be a year like we’ve never had before. I really believe that. As good as we’ve done — and we’ve done great; we had the best economy in the history of the world, not just here, but anywhere in the world.” As of July 10th, The New York Times reports that there have been over 3 million cases of COVID-19, in the United States and of those cases more than 133,000 resulted in death, the most number of cases and deaths in any country worldwide. It is safe to assume that in the past month the United States has not done great as the President claims.

As COVID-19 deaths dwindle in some states, like New York and others open back up, one of the biggest concerns is how universities & colleges will handle an inevitable second wave of the virus. Many students question whether institutions are prepared to redeem themselves from their failed efforts in communicating with and supporting their students during the initial wave of COVID-19. In New York state, CUNY and SUNY schools and private universities granted their students money from the CARES Act. Eligible students received a sum of up to $900 which many students felt was an insufficient amount considering they were still responsible for full tuition despite not providing fully supportive on campus housing, food, and comparable instruction due to social distancing standards. The future generation and the population that makes up most of the college students today, Gen Z, are known for spending the bulk of their lives on social media. Many would assume that having classes in the comfort of their own homes via Zoom or Skype would be a breeze for Gen Z, but Gen Z students themselves would beg to differ. The SUNY Purchase Open Forum, a private online board via Facebook where SUNY Purchase students can post their opinions, artwork, ads, questions etc., has been a breeding ground for many Coronavirus related discussions. Some question on why SUNY Purchase and many other schools are still requiring students to pay their full tuition for the upcoming fall semester, despite housing being very limited and most classes continuing online via Zoom. When asked about how COVID-19 has affected their academic careers and daily activity, student Kaitlin B., a film major, had this to say, “I rely on structure and routine for my well being. I have really intense anxiety so not having anything to do physically and mentally, I really saw a decline in my health both emotionally and physically. Also I don’t have a stable/safe home base so leaving school abruptly was not easy at all and especially having to continue school while not being in a stable place was awful.” She went on further to explain, “It severely damaged my academic career. Most of my classes are hands-on, I need to have a separate area to work and study than where I’m living because I just can’t focus.” Other students chimed in when asked the question of how they have been hurt financially by COVID-19 and whether or not their school properly supported them. Samantha S., a history major replied, “The school surprisingly gave me some money from the CARES Act, and a 50 dollar refund. I wasn’t expecting much because I wasn’t a full time student but I feel like having still paid thousands of dollars a 50 dollar refund was kind of ridiculous.” Karlo, a theatre performance major when asked about the CARES Act said, “I don’t think that’s enough, at all, especially with tuition not being lowered and it being full price this fall, I feel like they should do a lot more.” 

International students are also expected to return to their home countries despite still taking classes in the United States. International and domestic students are fed up with how institutions have responded during the pandemic and are questioning whether continuing their education is worth the stress and financial loss while the country continues to suffer from the virus. As the Gen Z students continue the quest of higher learning, the nationwide call for the U.S government to end student debt and provide free public education as a human right is ever more clear.


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