In the early days of COVID-19’s presence in the U.S., my greatest anxieties revolved around my upcoming study abroad trip. I worried about losing scholarship money, or worse: the trip being canceled. When Ohio University suspended classes for two weeks, I worried how I would sustain myself in Athens without my university job, but I figured everything would be OK.
All of those trivial concerns were supplemented by very concrete fears about my own future, and the future of my family, when my mother was laid off work indefinitely.
Like millions of other working-class students around the nation, obtaining my college education requires struggle, sacrifice and generosity from non-family members. As the world braces for a long-term recession, I’m confident my family will recover, but I’m not confident I’ll be able to afford tuition at Ohio University next semester. The COVID-19 outbreak proves more than ever that higher education needs to be free, or at least affordable.
The outbreak has exposed the massive flaws in our healthcare infrastructure. Once the outbreak passes, the inability of our economic institutions to allow the working and middle class to return to normal life could be a glaring issue.
According to a Pew Social Trends study, 54% of college students came from families that fell below middle-class standing in 2016. With many of the families in this group, ranging from poverty to “lower middle-income,” set to be laid off for potentially long periods of time, paying college tuition will be a more daunting task this fall.
President Donald Trump’s student loan interest waiver, proposed in response to the crisis, may seem like a step in the right direction, but the true beneficiaries will already have their degrees secured, and even they may not see the benefits of the program until long after the pandemic has passed.
Institutions like OU should also self-asses and be open to changes. If classes remain online into the fall of 2020, tuition should absolutely be lowered. Ohio’s tuition is $12,600, and if the university continues to operate remotely, that’s not a justifiable price.
With the budget crisis still at the forefront of the university’s decision making, it’s unlikely to see a reduction of tuition or an expansion of aid for students uncertain about costs next year. However, a global recession may bring universities nationwide to a point where large numbers of students are unable or unwilling to pay tuition next year.
At the beginning of the outbreak, I never thought my anxieties would be focused on my own future. The idea of no longer being able to attend OU is a worst-case scenario for me, and likely many others, but now it’s something I must grapple with over the course of the next few months.
What congress should do now is consider implementing an expansion of federal aid for current college students from working or middle-class households impacted by the layoffs and business closures. For students like me, our futures may be at stake.
Noah Wright is a junior studying strategic communication at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Noah? Tweet him @NoahCampaign.