The coronavirus, or COVID-19, has forced universities to send students home and shift the course of the semester. What started as a minor virus overseas transformed into a global pandemic that has affected students around the world. As the number of cases multiplied, the University of Florida decided to shift all coursework online and encourage students to return home if at all possible. According to the university’s website, President Kent Fuchs relayed a message requiring all classes to be moved online by March 16 at the latest. For students in on-campus courses, this presents a major challenge as labs and other hands-on coursework is switched to online platforms. On the other hand, students in the Pathway to Campus Enrollment (PaCE) program stay online as they always have.
When students initially get into the PaCE program they may feel discouraged or less valued as an individual because they are chosen to complete their prerequisites online. Actually, some students are accepted into PaCE even if they select the “not interested” option on the application. As an incoming first-year, online learning was a major concern of mine because I wanted to be fully immersed in student life at UF and I didn’t know if it was possible. Although my experience has been nothing but positive, traditional on-campus students may have trouble visualizing themselves in an off-campus living space and learning from online lectures. The PaCE lifestyle requires self-discipline and organization as online students have to create their own schedules day-to-day.
I first heard about the coronavirus in late January and assumed it would stay in Asia because sicknesses occur around the world daily. As time progressed and more deaths began to take place, the seriousness of the situation crept upon me. I realized that it would soon be affecting those in my own backyard. When students were initially encouraged to return home, I planned on staying in Gainesville because there was no way this virus “thing” was going to last more than a couple of weeks. Boy was I wrong. My sorority formal barely took place on March 12, and that’s when I knew it was probably time to head home. I ended up leaving the next afternoon and canceled my birthday brunch in the midst of the madness.
When I returned home that night, I was initially annoyed because I had just left home to come back from spring break that previous Monday morning. I couldn’t believe all the driving I had been doing and the amount of gas I was using. I continued to work on my online school work as I would have in Gainesville, but slowly the reality of the situation began to hit me. I might never see my roommate till next school year, I never got to say goodbye to my big sister in my sorority and I couldn’t give my friends those last couple of hugs before I drove away. I now have no access to a gym and definitely not Total Body (45) on Wednesdays. The remaining weeks of my first year felt taken away from me. If I was feeling this upset and my biggest adjustments were my declining social life and the constant company of my family, I could only imagine how my fellow on-campus Gators were feeling. None of my school work changed because it’s all online and I technically don’t have to be at UF to complete it. Other students at the university are struggling to cope both socially and academically. I personally can’t imagine trying to complete a biology lab over Canvas or learning calculus from a virtual lecture. Even though UF is a top-ranked university for its online program, a sudden change can be traumatic for students.
The coronavirus also affects UF students financially because residents living in off-campus locations are still expected to pay monthly rent. In addition, if a student comes home and hopes to get a job or return to a former job, this may not be possible due to restrictions on businesses in Florida. Although some businesses can survive off of carryout or delivery services, smaller places may not withstand the economic recession. This makes for unemployment and fewer job opportunities for college students coming home.
At the end of the day, I am thankful that the coronavirus has not drastically impacted my family or friends. There are some people who have lost loved ones and entered into a difficult financial situation from layoffs due to the pandemic. When I entered into the fall of my first year in 2019, I was optimistic about PaCE but knew it was probably not going to compare to on-campus learning. Now, in March, I now realize that being accepted into PaCE was a blessing in disguise and has allowed for a smoother transition back home.