In response to the nationwide instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Intercollegiate COVID-19 Coalition was created by students in higher education institutions across the United States to advocate on behalf of university students as we face the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Coalition’s mission is to urge higher education institutions across the country to implement policies protecting and supporting all collegiate level students who are facing various degrees of hardships while dealing with the pandemic.
An increasing number of universities across the country intend to continue classes and complete the semester online. The aim is to have university operations continue as normally as is possible given the circumstances. However, it is clear that the higher education experience cannot continue normally for many individuals.
In theory, remote learning graded on an ordinary letter grade scale is an effective plan to preserve both public health and a university’s function as an educational institution. In practice, however, universities’ current plans for remote learning will exacerbate the drastic resource gap between students from different backgrounds, disproportionately hurting some students more than others. Transcripts for Spring 2020 will undoubtedly reflect this disparity.
Nationwide, students may be facing:
- A lack of food security, safe and stable housing, and internet access;
- An inability to travel outside the home, preventing them from accessing public internet resources;
- The need to work multiple jobs and to use financial aid loans/grants to sustain themselves and their families;
- The need to take care of younger siblings—especially in light of public school closings—so that their parents can continue to work;
- An inability to return home due to travel restrictions, and worrying over the wellbeing of loved ones;
- Concern over their personal health and that of those around them as they navigate this pandemic;
- A lost source of income due to the termination of paid work-study positions;
And many other challenges that we cannot go into further detail here due to the varied and compounding circumstances that each student is facing.
In response, we demand institutions across the country to provide the following support:
- For institutions to transition to a universal pass/no-pass, without any impact on students’ degree plan, and credits count towards major and graduation requirements for this semester;
- For professors and teaching staff to reduce the academic burden placed on both students and themselves through modifications in the amount and weight of assessments;
- For institutions to continue to provide financial support for all those who have jobs on campus that could be interrupted due to COVID-19, in particular, that provisions be provided for students on work-study;
- For institutions to provide financial support through reimbursements of room and board for those who rely on on-campus meal plans;
- For institutions to continue providing support to the international and undocumented community to ensure their wellbeing and legal protections remain intact;
- For institutions to provide free learning tools such as textbooks, laptops, programs, and other resources normally available on campus.
We understand the nature of these demands is substantial, but we feel our demands are appropriate considering the instability we face due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this time, we ask that universities continue to care for their students and help provide for our wellbeing. Though complete cancellation of classes has been suggested, we do not believe this is feasible, or that it does any good for the most vulnerable among us.
To date, several colleges have already taken action to ensure that some of the above demands are met for their students. In particular, Berea College announced that it will continue to pay students for their campus work positions through the end of the semester, even if they are off campus unable to continue working; The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Pennsylvania, Davidson College, and St. John’s University will be offering a prorated adjustment for students that were living on campus.
Additionally, Massachusetts Insitute of Technology and Smith College have already transitioned to a universal pass/no-pass policy. Important to note is that a universal pass/no-pass policy helps ensure that individuals are not stratified based on their sources, and promotes a more equitable educational opportunity.
These policy changes would also help reduce the burden on teaching fellows, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors who also cannot be expected to carry on the same work as normal — they too are facing similar issues. We also would like to recognize that our struggles are not unique but shared with and amplified among a broader community of service employees, subcontracted workers, wage workers, the unhoused, the incarcerated, and other vulnerable populations during a global pandemic. As such, we issue this statement in the hopes that universities across the country adopt policies that accomplish the items outlined above.
While we understand these are substantive asks, we must stress how vital these policies are in order to ensure the academic and personal success of students across the country. We thank you all for your work and efforts on our behalf and are excited to be able to return to the classroom once this pandemic clears.