The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things this year, and college is no different. The number of students who attended a college or university this year was down 22 percent nationally compared with 2019, according to thejournal.com, and many have attended remotely. The experiences of three local college students illustrates the unusual nature of higher education this school year.
When Nadia Scoppettone graduated from Montpelier High School in the fall, she was enrolled in Amherst College. When the college announced that they would be partly virtual this year, Scoppettone decided that transferring to UVM would ultimately be a better fit. Amherst had 950 of the 1800 total students in residence for fall 2020. The remote option would allow Scopperttone a similar learning experience and be significantly more affordable.
The remote option of UVM would allow Scoppettone to attend school from anywhere and that was not an opportunity she was about to pass up. “I decided I wanted to go on a trip,” Scoppettone said.
In June, she bought a Dodge van from a friend’s dad. She spent a month renovating the vehicle and preparing for the trip. Her boyfriend Max Hughes was also attending college online and decided to come along. In early September, Scoppettone departed Vermont, heading for Glacier National Park, Montana.
Since then, she has been touring much of the United States in the van that doubles as home and a classroom. Staying in national forests and the occasional Walmart parking lot, Scoppettone uses her phone to hotspot her computer and attend her classes.
The internet connection is often shaky, and working in such a small space has its challenges. “It’s also a little difficult to get motivated to do school when you are in all of these beautiful places,” said Scoppettone.
She and Hughes have been on the road for roughly five months and plan to return to Vermont by spring.
Ginger Knight has been in Washington, D.C. since January 5. A U-32 grad, she attends American University of International Service. During the fall, Knight attended classes remotely while living with friends on Cape Cod. “We all had jobs at the same resort and so I would work between classes,” Knight said.
The Cape resort closed for the season at the same time Knight was finishing finals, so she returned briefly to Vermont for the holidays before moving to D.C., where she is still attending classes remotely.
Knight is currently sharing an apartment with another Vermont college student. It was a bit of a struggle to find a space in the right location and within the right price range, but Knight enjoys the benefits of being near campus. ”We are able to explore the city together before attending in person next year,” Knight said.
Knight’s classes have about 15 to 20 students, and break-out rooms have allowed her to connect with fellow students. Her professors host office hours as well, which enables a more personal relationship.
There are many other students in the neighborhood in similar situations, which Knight values.
“It’s a nice way to be a part of the school without being on campus,” she said.
When Lily Gingold started the year, she was not as connected to her school, UVM, as Knight is now. After graduating from Montpelier High School in the spring, she decided to take courses last fall remotely from home. “For the first semester, I mostly made the decision based on how comfortable I would feel and the options I had at home,” Gingold said.
By staying in Montpelier she was able to keep her job and stay in touch with high school friends. Having the support of family was also helpful for Gingold and allowed her to comfortably transition into college academics, she said.
By the second semester, however, she felt ready to move onto the UVM campus. Her parents were supportive of her decision despite rising COVID-19 cases in Burlington. “They ultimately knew that this would be a good experience for me,” said Gingold.
She is currently living on campus and attends classes online. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, she cannot have a roommate, so branching out in such a regulated environment is slow going. Still, just like thousands of others, Gingold hopes to make the best of a complicated college experience.
Current high school seniors planning on college seem to be expecting a return to normalcy. Lissa Knauss, a guidance counselor at Montpelier High School for 11 years, said that she has seen few changes with the Class of 2021’s college plans. Students continue to apply at rates consistent with the past, she said, suggesting that college attendance in the future may increase from this year’s levels and will likely resemble previous years.