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When the Covid Generation goes to college

Cleveland State University students visit the student center
Cleveland State University students visit the student center as the semester winds down in December 2022. Credit: Amy Morona / Signal Cleveland

I’m Colleen Murphy, the managing editor at Open Campus. Scott and Sara have been sending this newsletter for a while now but as we grow I’ll be chiming in more. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about or how we can better cover all aspects of higher ed. Just hit reply on this email. I’ll write you back — promise.

The Dispatch
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A newsletter about role of higher education in society — plus Open Campus developments. By Sara Hebel and Scott Smallwood

There’s one theme that our local reporters have been hearing over and over again: College freshmen are struggling more than usual to adjust. Why? The pandemic disrupted more than half of their time in high school.

As a result, some of the keys to succeeding in college — working with others, connecting with professors, staying on top of course work — are harder than typical. There’s increased anxiety, a feeling of not belonging at college.

I have to tell myself it’s not so bad being social,” one student told Chalkbeat Colorado’s Jason Gonzales. “But it can be scary. I’m used to always having my mom or my sister around.”

We’ve also explored these ideas with Daniel Perez in El Paso; Amy Morona in Cleveland; and Emma Folts in Pittsburgh. I asked them to share takeaways from their reporting:

It’s reasonable that students feel cheated out of high-school time with friends, classmates, and teammates, Danny says. “Students often are not where they want to be socially, emotionally, or academically.”

Hector Flores, for example, told Danny about his struggles to fit in. “I was out of my comfort zone,” the freshman at the University of Texas at El Paso said. “I needed to rebuild myself and my identity.”

Things did get better for Flores, though. He feels comfortable with his peers and professors, and more at home on campus. In Pittsburgh, students told Emma something similar. They’ve adjusted well to college, overall.

Still, some professors and administrators were quick to tell Emma about broader challenges they see facing freshmen. One statistics professor, for example, sees students who need extra help on everything from algebra to simple arithmetic. And, they are less confident or willing to speak up in class, he says.

Amy notes that in her interviews, it seemed like some students haven’t had a chance yet to step back and think about the impacts of the pandemic — ”they’re still in it,” she says.

“I think it’s important to reiterate that college students aren’t a monolith, and the effects of the past few years continue to manifest differently for everyone.”

We’ll be reporting more about the pandemic’s effects on students in the months to come. Have thoughts to share? Email us: info@opencampusmedia.org

— Colleen Murphy

Photo: Howard U.

Join us for an event on HBCUs

We created the HBCU Student Journalism Network to train student journalists and increase coverage of the sector — without repeating stereotypes or tropes. As part of that effort, we’re holding a webinar — Jan. 19 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time — on what’s ahead for historically Black colleges and universities this year.

We’ve got an ace panel to explore that question, and others:

  • Jarrett Carter, Sr. — a program mentor for the network and director of operations, strategy, and communications at Howard University
  • Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis — Benedict College president
  • Erica L. Green — education reporter at the New York Times
  • Adam Harris — staff writer at the Atlantic and author of “The State Must Provide”

Our inaugural class of fellows will be there too! They’ll be sharing their views on HBCUs, debunking misunderstandings about their colleges, and talking about realities from their campuses. Naomi Harris, our race and equity reporter, is moderating both panels.

You can sign up for the event here.

Our new board members

Caroline Hendrie, the former executive director of the Education Writers Association, and Abigail Seldin, the chief executive officer of the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation, have joined the Open Campus Board of Directors.

They add experience in journalism, nonprofit management, and higher education to the organization and our expanded seven-member board.

Caroline is a long-time leader in education journalism, serving for 12 years as EWA executive director and 14 years as managing editor and national reporter at the nonprofit news organization Education Week.

In 2019, Abigail created the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation, where she partnered with Getty Images to create new stock photos of today’s college students and led the development of SwiftStudent, a free digital tool for college students seeking financial-aid appeals. She’s also co-founder of the Civic Mapping Initiative, where she leads a team charting the proximity of public transit stops to public services.

Thank you

We’re very grateful for your support of us and our work. Thanks to our generous donors, we exceeded our year-end fundraising goal, bringing in a total of $47,654.

We’re excited for our plans to grow in 2023, adding more reporters to more communities. You’re helping us get there.

University of Illinois Chicago faculty picket
University of Illinois Chicago faculty picket on campus on Jan. 11. Lisa Philip / WBEZ

Elsewhere on Open Campus

From Chicago: Students’ mental health challenges — and the faculty belief that they deserve to be paid more as a result — are at the core of stalled contract negotiations at the University of Illinois Chicago.

From Mile Markers: Nick Fouriezos takes you to Otter Tail County, Minn., where one city employee has an ambitious goal: attracting people away from the Twin Cities.

From Colorado: Catch up on the beginning of the legislative session, including the introduction of education bills. Plus, here’s a guide to following education issues in the General Assembly.

From Cleveland: The maximum Pell Grant amount is increasing by $500 this year. For some students, that could be the difference between dropping out and staying enrolled.

From Pittsburgh: Community College of Allegheny County hopes the gun-violence prevention program it started last fall could help residents see a different, peaceful path forward.

From Mississippi: Molly Minta, our reporter with Mississippi Today, sat down for a 45-minute interview with Joe Paul, the new president of the University of Southern Mississippi. They covered faculty salaries and diversity, his focus on private philanthropy, and the university’s role in a welfare scandal.

Keep in Touch

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