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As COVID-19 persists, the chasm between wealthy and lower-income college students has never felt more pronounced. Millions of students must make the impossible choice between furthering their education and making ends meet. Challenges like a layoff or reduction in work hours, a sick family member, or overdue bills have quickly moved from being "setbacks" to "showstoppers."
According to The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice's recent study, nearly three in five students surveyed experienced basic needs insecurity (food, housing, homelessness) during the pandemic.
We know that college instructors and advisors witness the digital divide and the need for equity in higher education firsthand, navigating these hardships with their students and helping them to persist despite myriad challenges before them.
Last March, soon after the COVID-induced shutdown effectively moved all learning online, we started to hear heartbreaking stories from our instructors about student struggles. Wiley quickly distributed one hundred $200 grants to help students unexpectedly suffering from housing and food insecurity. As the 2020/21 school year unfolded, those stories increased exponentially. Our Wiley team knew we had to assist our most in-need learners in partnership with our instructors. We reallocated committed budgets across teams, pooled our resources, and funded two hundred Stay the Course grants of $500 each, for a total of $100,000 for students in need.
We asked our instructors and academic advisors to nominate students. The stories are both crushing and beautiful, demonstrating the grit and determination students exhibited in the face of unseen challenges. I'll share just a few of our instructor's submissions here; note that I've kept the names of these students confidential, even though all have given us permission to share their experiences:
"She is a nontraditional student with three children. She is also a grandmother. She is a survivor of domestic violence. Her eight-year-old son was born with a chromosomal abnormality that only 33 children had at the time (missing a section of his 14th chromosome). He was not expected to live beyond 12 months. He cannot speak, but he loves music. Her teenage children help care for him, although one has battled depression exacerbated by COVID. Her grades have suffered as a result of computer difficulties during COVID. She earned all As and Bs last semester but is struggling this semester because her computer has crashed during exams. She has a caregiver's heart. She is determined to obtain an accounting degree to gain independence and provide for those who rely on her. "
"Over the past year, this student has experienced tremendous hardship, including her mother being deported to Mexico in June of 2020, although she had been living in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident for 15+years. Due to the pandemic, Jacqueline was able to go to Mexico with her mom while still being able to complete her coursework. But there were many challenges, including spotty internet connections and less than ideal living conditions. In spite of trying circumstances, Jacqueline has continued with her coursework and excels, and she remains committed to her goal of completing her accounting degree in the Summer of 2022. In an email from her last semester, she stated: "More than teaching something I am very interested in with so much passion, you provided me mentorship. You also believed in me, and that made a world of difference. Your belief in me made me look at myself and believe in me too. That is priceless, and I can never say thank you enough."
"He has been a previous student of mine in a few different classes. As the oldest child in his family, he has been put in the position of responsibility to care for his younger siblings and his parents. I have personally witnessed him working extremely hard during his time at school, despite these familial responsibilities. This past year with the coronavirus situation has been especially difficult for him as he and his family only have access to one device for all to share during virtual learning. During his time in school, he has also held various jobs as he is also financially responsible for his family. This grant would help take some of the financial burden away from him so he can better focus on his mental well-being and academics as he cares for his family."
COVID has been awful, but it's also allowed us to witness grit firsthand. I am in awe of the resilience, ambition, and clarity of purpose of our students. I am so grateful to the instructors and advisors who took the time to submit nominations and who walk side-by-side with their students as they work towards a degree. I appreciate Wiley's leadership for supporting the Stay the Course program and our teams for funding this vital initiative.
At Wiley, we are committed to unlocking human potential through research and education. Our Stay the Course grants are another way that we can do this in 2021. Now, more than ever, we need to clear the way to empower learners in their journey.