Wily Scholars Among College Students Hit Hardest by COVID-19 Pandemic

This year, as the coronavirus pandemic continues, returning to or entering college is looking very different for students. While some universities have allowed students back on campus for in-person learning, other schools are instituting full-time remote classes or a hybrid approach consisting of both. For students on campus, emotions are high as they balance the fear of getting sick with the stress of a full workload and the sadness of being isolated from friends. While having to navigate this new world is an unsettling inconvenience for most college students, it is truly a dire situation for Wily Scholars. The pandemic has exacerbated their already stressful financial, academic, and emotional challenges making the road to graduation for Wily Scholars even harder.

Financial Strain: An Everyday Reality

The burden of the pandemic has exposed a staggering class divide among students. Like many college students, Wily Scholars, depend on their wages from local jobs or work-study programs. Unfortunately, college work-study programs, put into place to help students like Wily Scholars, have become limited. With campus amenities closed—such as gyms and dining halls—the workforce needed to maintain these facilities is diminished, although Scholars were told the promise of work-study would be honored. Additionally, off-campus jobs offer few employment opportunities. Many of the bars and restaurants surrounding college campuses that were previously eager to hire students, were unable to weather the storm that devastated the hospitality industry, and are either closed or unable to hire.

Scholars looking beyond the college environment for employment are met with the economic hardships lingering over the job market. Many students are eager to apply their classroom knowledge in the real world with internships, but are seeing promising opportunities postponed or canceled. With future employers hiring based on relevant work experience, the inability to have an internship is not only affecting Scholars financially now, but also post-graduation when they lack the necessary experience to get a job. For Wily Scholars, this job market nightmare means come graduation they may not have the financial independence or job experience needed to survive in the real world. Without the financial stability of steady employment post-graduation, the realities of housing and food insecurity for Wily graduates are daunting.

Academic Impact: Navigating a New Learning Environment

Adding to the stress of a college workload, many students must also navigate the challenges of virtual learning. With little warning or time to prepare, students have transitioned their mindset from a traditional classroom to a makeshift lecture hall, also functioning as their dorm room. For students who thrive in a classroom setting, virtual learning has stripped all face-to-face interaction and can lead to loneliness and increased isolation. A Wily Scholar commented, “By far the hardest thing about virtual learning is staying motivated and focused in class. It’s very easy to not go to a lecture or not pay attention because you can spend the whole day in your room.”

Social & Emotional Challenges: Coping with COVID-19

The emotional stress brought on by the pandemic is by far one of the most daunting factors for Wily Scholars. Changes in financial status and academic environment can, directly and indirectly, impact students psychologically. In addition to dealing with isolation and the challenges of learning behind a screen, Scholars also face housing insecurity—unsure of where they will go if campuses close again and send students home. Students with stable home environments are comforted by the fact that if their college sends them home again, they’ll have a safe environment to return to. Often, Wily Scholars do not have that privilege. Many Wily Scholars have no home to go to, or an unstable home environment, and for others, returning home would only be an added burden.

Another factor affecting Scholar’s mental wellbeing is food insecurity—which for many college students is often just a few missed paychecks away. While this is not a new issue on college campuses, with fewer jobs available for students, the pandemic has heightened this concern. The CARES Act, passed in March, has provided relief for some students, but its impact was not widespread. “Overwhelming” is an understatement for students, like Wily Scholars, managing housing insecurity, food insecurity and obstacles impacting their academic success.

Building Up Our Community: Power of the Pack

One Scholar reflected on their transition back to school stating, “Wily has been so helpful as I’ve transitioned back to campus during the pandemic. During a time where everything is up in the air, Wily has been such a necessary beacon of hope and stability. The transition back to college is always difficult, but this year might have been impossible without all that Wily has done for me.”

The pandemic has already wiped out restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues but the Wily Network refuses to let the pandemic wipe out the progress that Wily students have made. While Scholars are facing a steep uphill battle in comparison to most college students, with the help of our pack—donors like you—we will be able to continue to provide the financial and emotional support needed to guide Scholars.