When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in the spring, it robbed many high school seniors of important milestones such as prom and graduation, and robbed them of the chance to say goodbye to their classmates. For some, it also took away their chance to set foot on the campus of the college of their choice for the first time.
Miranda Treviño is an Edison High School senior planning to attend the University of Texas at San Antonio this fall. She was looking forward to attending UTSA’s orientation this summer, but it’s been canceled. She attended the virtual version instead.
“I was kind of bummed out,” she said. “It was a really good orientation online, but I feel like I would have enjoyed it more in person.”
Treviño was already planning on staying in town before the coronavirus hit, but she may be joined by more of her classmates due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“I love San Antonio. So going to college here would just be great too,” Treviño said.
Treviño said she chose UTSA because she likes its kinesiology program. Her family makes less than $51,000 dollars a year, qualifying her for UTSA’s new free tuition scholarship.
“(The free tuition) was also a huge thing when deciding because I was like, ‘Okay, my tuition's going to be paid for, everything's going to be covered.’ I'll also be getting money back, so I could use it for books or use it for stuff on campus.”
While Treviño has forged on with her plans to attend college in the fall, the decision isn’t as straightforward for other high school seniors, especially those who attend schools with a high percentage of low-income students located in predominantly working-class neighborhoods in San Antonio.
When the coronavirus hit, some educators worried that high school seniors would give up on college because of financial hardship.
“Parents are losing jobs, students are losing jobs. I've had students who have considered applying for unemployment,” said Fatima Montez, a college access advisor for the San Antonio Education Partnership, a nonprofit funded by the city to help boost the city’s college-going rate.
Montez works with students at Holmes, Burbank and Harlandale Early College high schools.
She said the coronavirus outbreak has caused a lot of her seniors to second-guess, and sometimes even change, their college plans.
“A lot of what I'm hearing right now is, ‘Why am I going to pay for out-of-state tuition? Why am I going to pay private school tuition if I'm not even going to be able to be there fall semester?’ And the truth is, we don't know what's going to happen,” Montez said. “But that's a realistic fear for a lot of students.”
Montez said students who were planning on leaving San Antonio are now staying in town. And students who have lost income because of the coronavirus are choosing more affordable options like the local community college system, Alamo Colleges.
The Alamo Colleges District has a new free tuition program for Bexar County seniors, and most of Montez’s schools had all of their seniors sign up as a backup plan, even if they originally wanted to go to a four-year university.
“That's one less thing for them to have to worry about right now,” she said.
Montez said most of her students still plan on going to college, but a handful of students at each of her schools told her even going to college part-time wasn’t an option for them right now.
“They're like, no, I need to work. And not just for their benefit, not just for paying for school, but for the benefits of family,” Montez said. “It's a tough conversation to have with someone in high school. They're supposed to have all of this laid out in front of them.”
Other college bound advisors for San Antonio high schools located in low-income and working-class neighborhoods noticed similar trends.
Michael Paniagua Jr., a Trinity University College Advising Corps advisor for McCollum High School, said a lot of his students are working more and planning to go to college part-time.
“But it seems like most of my students do have (their college) plans still set in stone,” Paniagua said. “If anything, I've been hearing a lot of determination, you know that this is something that they still want to work for.”
Edison High School college bound advisor Regan Arevalos said most of his students’ post-high school plans haven’t changed, but many of them have family members who have lost jobs.
“I've definitely seen a difference in the amount of students that have gotten jobs or are working way like close to full-time hours now to help support their families,” Arevalos said. “Which is always kind of an issue that we're worried about, just because (we don’t want them) burning themselves out at that age.”
Arevalos said his biggest worry is that the pandemic is adding even more hurdles to an already long list of tasks students need to complete this summer before they can enroll in college.
For instance, Texas requires college students to submit proof that they’ve received the meningitis shot before they can register for classes. The San Antonio Independent School District usually gives seniors the shot at school, and submits the record to their college for them. But the meningitis shots for Edison High School were scheduled for after spring break, and never took place.
The district has arranged to pay the $10 fee to submit the shot records, but Arevalos said that only solves half the problem.
“We don't have the clinics, we don't have the shots and we don't have the students getting those,” Arevalos said.
And unless something changes, students still have to prove their shots are up-to-date at least 10 days before their first college class. Arevalos worries that hurdles like the meningitis shot increase the risk that his students will give up on college.
“For a student to easily just say, ‘You know what, never mind, I'm just going to get a job. I wanted to go to college, but this is just too much work,’” Arevalos said. “We really haven't seen how hard it's going to be yet. It's tough now, but there's a big bunch of those little hurdles that are now exponentially tougher because of this situation.”
Treviño said she’s grateful for all the support she’s gotten from Arevalos and her other college bound advisors the past few months, especially because she’s the first person in her family to go to college.
“It's hard to go ask a family member like, ‘Hey, what do I do?’ Because they don't know,” Treviño said. “So our college advisors from school being there for us all the time, it's just taking that amount of stress off not being in school. It helps a lot.”
One of her advisors logged into Google Docs to edit her essay for a college scholarship. They also gave live how-to videos on Instagram to guide Trevino and her classmates through the final steps of accepting financial aid and choosing a college.
Now that the semester is almost over, all Arevalos and his colleagues can do is continue to offer the Class of 2020 advice when they need it and celebrate their big dreams.
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