What will the fall semester look like on college campuses?
The University of Illinois recently announced that all faculty and staff are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the beginning of the new school year.
“We’ve been intensively preparing for this all along, all the way back to the beginning,” said University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen. “We do feel now that vaccination is key to getting out of the pandemic as a whole community and to make our campus as safe as possible. We’re going beyond encouraging ... getting that extra percent is going to be very important, particularly with the variants emerging.”
According to Killeen, student enrollment at the U of I is robust. But not all colleges are seeing these trends.
“Since 2013 to 2019, there was a 34% drop in Black student enrollment at our Illinois colleges, which we view as a crisis,” said Chicago State University President Zaldwaynaka Scott. “The crisis is now on top of a pandemic which created another significant crisis in the Black community as we continue to see the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our Black and brown communities.”
To combat these dips in enrollment and economic barriers posed by the pandemic, colleges and universities across the state are increasing financial aid opportunities and emergency grants for students.
“We have emergency funds for students who may struggle with living expenses and additional scholarship opportunities to encourage students to come back,” said Aarti Dhupelia, vice president of undergraduate education at National Louis University. “And to ensure that financial or other personal barriers — that really are the root of equity gaps in higher education — that we knock those down so students can continue on in their studies uninterrupted.”
According to Dhupelia, about 70% of National Louis University students are low-income and first in their family to go to college.
The UI system is also increasing financial aid support for students as the pandemic continues.
“We know from our own surveys that the financial considerations are very paramount in family decision making,” Killeen said. “Our total amount of financial aid per year given to students based on their needs is above $240 million, and that’s more than federal and state financial aid as well.”
Mariama Mwilambwe, a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and elected Student Trustee, believes that in addition to financial and academic support, universities should be stepping up to help emotionally as well.
“Students need to feel like they’re supported by the university,” Mwilambwe said. “They need to feel like there are culturally appropriate counselors available. They need to feel like there is an abundance of appointments for them. They need to feel like not just academically and financially they’re supported, but also mentally and emotionally and that they feel their concerns are being heard.”