Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have been forced to abandon their college aspirations as they tend to personal responsibilities exacerbated by the pandemic.
According to a Student Clearing House report, undergraduate enrollment in the U.S. fell 4% from fall 2019 to fall 2020. Additionally, freshman enrollment declined by whopping 16.1% from the previous year. John Desfonds, of Morgantown, WV, is one of the many prospective freshman who were unable to begin collegiate study this year due to the pandemic.
Early last year, John’s mother was put on sick leave from work, which left John to fill in the gaps in family income. Accordingly, John took a full-time job at a local fast-food chain, with little time or income left over to devote to classes and tuition.
“I’m still working at [the same restaurant], making $9.25 an hour and have been for a year now. My best hope…is that I’ll get a 25 cent raise to hold me till next year,”John Desfonds
John’s situation illustrates the grave reality students across the country are facing. According to a US Census Poll, over 16.5 million Americans canceled their plans to attend college last fall due to barriers presented by the pandemic.
The burden falls upon high school students, with little prior training, that are left to find entry-level jobs with pay that cannot sustain themselves, or their families. However, without the college degree or vocational certification that they cannot currently afford, these young people have no ability to find jobs that provide adequate compensation.
“Most of the stress stems from all the things I have to do to compensate for losing my opportunities rather than the disease itself. [I] can’t say I’ve felt well-rested in ages.”John Desfonds
In addition to financial concerns, John’s mother works as a nurse and regularly assists elderly patients. Therefore, John’s plans to attend classes at nearby WVU would have presented a twofold risk.
“[Attending classes at WVU] would potentially risk either me bringing it home and passively infecting elderly patients…or getting it [through contact with his mother’s work] and spreading it through school,”John Desfonds
For John and his family, the pandemic has created far more strife than minute annoyance over mask mandates or longer wait times at restaurants. Over the past year, John has been faced with daily challenges, including securing basic needs and comforts for he and his family.
As of yet, there is no clear solution for all of those who have been forced to put college plans on hold, but John maintains a sense of optimism and hope for his future.
“I do plan on going back, once my financial situation is taken care of completely, I should be able to enroll…I’m expecting to start pharmatech classes around July, and [I’ll] see what happens from there once I get a better job.”John Desfonds
by Callie Lamb