The issue of COVID-19 and reopening society is increasingly divided along party lines. Seventy-four percent of identified Republicans believe colleges that kept open during the pandemic made the right decision, while only 29 percent of Democrats believe so. Sixty-eight percent of identified Democrats polled believe that colleges made the wrong decision to keep campus open, while 25 percent of identified Republicans believe so.
“This shouldn’t be a political issue at all,” said Julia Lemmon, sophomore international relations major. “As an American, as a human being, you should be okay with doing what you can to help get this under control,” she said.
“The fact that there’s a partisan divide is honestly very frustrating and I feel like it’s almost embarrassing as a country with how we look internationally,” said Andrea Younes, sophomore political science major.
According to a recent Pew Research poll, 68 percent of American adults, regardless of political affiliation, seem to share a common view that online education does not provide the same quality of education as in person. This sentiment is echoed loud and clear by students in the LMU community.
One year of online school has been enough for Drew Cox, sophomore African American studies major. He hopes for an on-campus experience next fall.
The social aspect of college is a loss felt by Cox. “I would want to combat constant feelings of loneliness and social isolation by meeting everyone I formed a relationship with face-to-face. That is assuming that there will be a cure for COVID-19 next year,” Cox said.
Sara Saham, junior political science major, has noticed deficiencies to her online learning. Living with other LMU students, she finds herself struggling to focus when her roommates' Zoom classes are in session at the same time as hers. “I feel like I can get more work done away from home, but sitting at the same desk for everything is making it difficult to focus,” said Saham.
Not being able to leave her apartment, paired with balancing synchronous and asynchronous classes, has not only resulted in lower grades and motivation for Lemmon, but declining mental health as well. “The way I learn best is I separate my home from my work. That's what I have to do for my mind. When I was on campus last year I would never do homework in my dorm room, I would go to a conference room in Von Der Ahe or to a place in University Hall. Now I can’t focus at all, I get distracted by things, I procrastinate even more this semester,” she said.
COVID-19 has gotten exponentially worse in the United States in the past two weeks. The US has consistently marked over 100,000 new virus cases every day since Nov. 4, 2020. The peak was on Nov. 13 with over 180,000 new recorded cases.
According to a Pew Research Center poll, Republicans have consistently feared hospitalization due to COVID-19 far less than Democrats, and have been less concerned about possibly spreading the virus to others.
Data published by Fivethirtyeight shows that the gap in beliefs on COVID-19 and its impact has only widened since the pandemic first shut down the country in March and April. In regards to fear of hospitalization due to COVID-19, Republicans and Democrats were split 47-62 percent respectively in April 2020 and the split widened to 35-64 percent by June. As for the concerns over unknowingly exposing anyone to COVID-19, Democrats and Republicans also increased their split from 74-58 percent respectively in April to 77-45 percent by June.
Younes and Lemmon agree that a lack of collective effort in the US has contributed to the endurance of the virus.
“It seems like one of those situations where if people put their political views aside, and just focus on getting better then we would’ve had a lot more progress than we have now,” said Younes.
“If this issue wasn’t partisan and people just listened to the scientists, then we wouldn’t have had to deal with this as severe as it is,” said Lemmon.
Decline in college enrollment seems to be particularly acute among Black and Asian young adults in the United States. Between 2019 and 2020, the share of Asian young adults 18-24 enrolled in college went down from 62 percent to 57 percent, while the share of Black young adults in the same age demographic went down as well from 37 percent to 33 percent.
According to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse, overall undergraduate enrollment was down by 4 percent this fall compared to 2019. While not as dramatic a drop as predicted last spring, the proposition of gap semesters and years has held its place in the minds of students not expecting to return to campus in the near future.
“I can only imagine that for the second semester in a row of online learning, there’s gonna be so much more exhaustion and the air of giving up will just happen a lot faster,” said Younes.
The National Student Clearinghouse described the most significant drop occurring in freshman enrollment rates. With a decrease of 16 percent nationally and 22.7 percent at community colleges, freshmen account for 69 percent of the total drop in undergraduate enrollment.
“I don’t fault people for not going to college right now and putting it off, I actually think that’s a smart decision. But for some people, you can’t do that,” said Lemmon. “If you can take that time off, then maybe work and wait until things get back to normal so you can take classes in person, then I think it’s an absolutely smart idea.”