In mid-March, college campuses across the United States began shutting their doors to halt the spread of COVID-19. A number of colleges evicted students from dorms with little notice, eliminated students’ jobs, and cut back on or closed food pantries all together. Students already facing financial insecurity were most affected by these abrupt closures, but received little attention because of the (false) prevailing wisdom that young people and therefore students were less affected by the coronavirus.
Through Rise’s network of college students, we began hearing horror stories about the realities students were facing. That’s why we swiftly created a survey assessing the impacts of COVID-19 on college students. Our results from 500+ students attending 120+ colleges and universities in 30 states found that as a result of the virus, 75% of students are struggling with their mental health, 52% are unexpectedly unemployed or have had hours cut back, 28% are facing food insecurity, and 17% are housing insecure. These findings were an early indicator of COVID-19’s devastating impact on the health and well-being of college students.
Data in hand, we needed to shine a light on the realities students face, and connected dozens of students in the Rise network with reporters to share their stories. The resulting coverage in The Los Angeles Times highlighted the stories of two of our LA2050 student fellows and our LA2050 organizing manager. Victor Melendez, who attends Los Angeles Trade Tech College and had relied on his campus’ food pantry prior to COVID-19, shared how an extra $300 in emergency aid would help him buy groceries for himself and his family that would last a longer time. Crystal Hammond, who attends Los Angeles City College, shared how coronavirus had taken a toll on her and her peers’ mental health. Jemere Calhoun, who recently finished his time at Los Angeles City College, shared how starting remotely at U.C. Santa Cruz made him wary of leaving LA.
In addition to the coverage in The LA Times, Fortune and Curbed SF shared stories of students who struggled to find housing when they were kicked off campus and Rise’s CEO & Co-Founder, Max Lubin, wrote an op-ed piece featured on MTV News. Max’s piece aimed to remind Congress that student voters will be watching how they respond to COVID-19 and will act accordingly at the polls in November.
By keeping the spotlight on students and the many ways in which students are a vulnerable population at this time, we were able to shape the media’s coverage to illustrate the real impact that COVID-19 is having on college students.
This research and subsequent media coverage also informed Rise’s advocacy efforts in partnership with Swipe Out Hunger for the CARES Act. Together, we sent more than 3,000 letters to Congress that helped deliver $6 billion in emergency financial aid for college students.
To directly serve students in need, Rise has built the Student Navigator Network, a team of college student case managers who help students affected by the coronavirus find emergency financial aid, apply for public benefits, and connect with local resources. The Student Navigator Network is overseen by Dr. Stacy Raphael, a social worker with more than three decades of experience. To date, the Student Navigator Network has helped more than 4,000 college students across 49 states and will serve at least 10,000 by the end of the calendar year.
Now more than ever, we at Rise stand by our mission to ensure students remain in school while having their basic needs met and graduate on time with minimal or zero student debt. We will continue to serve students and shed a light on their experiences so our elected officials can make decisions based on the realities of students’ lives today.
Written by Liz Conn, COO at Rise.