Illustration by Sam Papvasiliou

COVID-19’s inequitable effect on student’s education: why some students chose to take time off

HSU students speak about their contrasting experiences with the virtual learning environment, agreeing that it is not ideal for all

As we approach the one year anniversary of COVID-19, students around the country are reflecting on their whirlwind of a year when it comes to their education.

Humboldt State students have continuously voiced their concerns about the effects that the pandemic has had on their educational experience.

For many, the shift to online learning made retaining information difficult and brought them to feel like they weren’t getting the most out of their education. Others found the shift slightly easier, but encountered other challenges when faced with social isolation and virtual overload.

Katie Piper is graduating from HSU in May with a major in geography and a minor in geospatial analysis.

“I was considering jumping into graduate school in the fall but now I just need a break,” Piper said.

Between being tethered to the computer six out of the seven days of the week and having to Zoom into classes three of those days, Piper’s optimism about obtaining her degree has been shot down. In the face of adversity, she felt like being so close to the finish line really pushed her to stay on track to graduate.

Online learning itself has not been too challenging for Piper, but she continues to question the quality of her educational experience.

“I do not like the lack of social interaction and the fact that some days I spend 20+ hours in my bedroom, where I do all my schoolwork, sleep, and hang out,” Piper said. “Some non-students tell me that they would never be able to accomplish school under these circumstances.”

As for many other students, the virtual learning format was a far more difficult adjustment that affected their ability to even take part in many classes.

This was the case for Wren Williams, a forestry major at HSU, who struggled to keep up in many classes as school went virtual in the spring of 2020. The online format was unable to accommodate for their learning disability and ultimately led to them falling behind fellow classmates.

“When the next semester came around, I did initially sign up for classes, but I couldn’t seem to keep up with online reading and just felt like I wasn’t learning anything in the classes that matter most to me,” Williams said.

Considering they were pursuing a degree in forestry, it was hard for them to want to take classes about the forest while being stuck inside an apartment doing school work. While taking a break from school, Williams has been able to spend a lot of time in the forest, reminiscing about past labs and strengthening their passion for forestry.

At UC Berkeley, the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Consortium administered a special survey on the impact of COVID-19 on student experience at 10 US public research universities in May-July 2020. The students reported significant hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic which they believe will negatively impact their ability to complete their degrees on-time.

The survey revealed that the top obstacle to degree completion was the a distracting home environment or lack of access to an appropriate study space (52%).

Elizabeth McCallion, the operations coordinator and staff psychologist for counseling and psychological services at HSU, emphasizes the importance of utilizing resources on campus as an option to help students who are experiencing hardships when it comes to the current online nature of education.

“Remote learning comes with its own unique challenges and counseling can be a supportive place to work through these challenges,” McCallion said.

Throughout this past year, many students have found that reducing stress, decreasing isolation, and making healthier lifestyle choices have helped to improve their academics.

As we continue through the pandemic, it is essential for students to take care of themselves and to understand what is right for them.

CAPS is available for all HSU students, and for those struggling with the remote learning environment, it may be helpful to get connected: or at 707-826-3236.

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