The Financial Dilemma in Going Back to School

From financial needs, to complicated housing situations, students aren’t entirely sure what the future holds for them.

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By Joycelyn Cabrera, EAW Student Digital Reporter

Well, we’re halfway through with 2020 and in the middle of a pandemic – and universities are starting back up in August. So, what does that mean for students?   

College students in particular are in a unique bind. From financial needs, to complicated housing situations – not to mention the added layer of the unstable job market – students aren’t entirely sure what the future holds for them.   

It’s pretty safe to say almost all U.S. students, from elementary to college, are feeling some type of anxiety about returning to school. After an abrupt stop to the school year and online-only options for courses in the summer, it’s only natural.  

At Arizona State University, in-person classes, hybrid classes, and remote classes are all offered for students to choose which class-type more so accommodates their needs. ASU is mirroring other universities across the country offering a “hybrid structure,” such as the University of Cincinnati in Ohio and the University of Utah.   

Hybrid structures or online options seem to be the solution to reducing exposure and the spread of COVID-19, however, students are not entirely satisfied with these plans. Students are finding themselves considering their financial needs when considering whether to take in-person or remote classes.    

Many college students – myself included – are weighing the value of online classes for the same tuition costs as in-person learning. In an unstable job market where unemployment is in record numbers, many college students have lost their once-stable incomes. Other students are considering getting their money’s worth by attending in-person classes – risking exposure and further spread of COVID-19.   

According to a survey by OneClass.com, 56% of college students said they can no longer afford tuition. According to Forbes.com and BrookScholar.com, the average cost of 4-year tuition has continually increased from 1971 – 2020, outpacing household income averages. The COVID-19 pandemic on top of this upward trajectory will impact countless students financially.   

Housing is another major factor. ASU, UofU, and UCincy all offer dormitory rooms, roommates, and on-campus/off-campus housing. The want many students have of leaving their hometowns is still a factor in the students’ decision to return to campus.   

If a student will already be living on campus, and paying the costs, why not attend in-person classes? Especially if tuition is set at the same price, regardless?  

Exposure risk is important to consider. Some students in Arizona are worried about on-campus classes, even though it may be the best financial decision to make. In July, Arizona was a global hotspot for COVID-19 cases, reaching over 160,000 cases by the end of the month, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Nationally, the United States has surpassed 4 million cases as of July 27, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Without financial support from our universities, these decisions are harder to make by the young adults who have to make them.  

So, what do we do? What can we do?: 

  • Communicate with your support system.   
  • Protect yourself and others, keep up with information from reliable news sources such as the CDC.  
  • Keep up with your local news – these reporters are part of the communities they cover and will often be publishing stories that are otherwise missed by national news outlets.   
  • Be understanding towards one another – we will all more than likely undergo different struggles this semester. Empathy will be an asset.   
  • Continue to look for opportunities. While times like these might be uncertain and unstable, it’s important to never give up and keep looking for opportunities to succeed. 

Students are eager to return to normalcy as much as possible, but the risks cannot be ignored and financial instability has caused many to weigh their health with their education. The choices are not easy to make and every situation is different, but at least we are all in this together. 

What to Expect for Fall Semester

It won’t be an easy semester but with determination and will power, your passion and resilience will be unmatched.

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Prepare for your classes to move online

Many colleges across the United States have quickly developed new plans to slow the spread of COVID-19 this fall. In June, the Chronicle of Higher Education tracked a list of universities’ plans for the fall semester. The largest category of colleges, at 63 percent, planned to return to in-person class for the fall semester. Seven percent of U.S. universities are planning online only instruction, while another 7% plan to do a hybrid (a mix of online and in-person classes), 9% were undecided as of June, and 11% hadn’t made final decisions as of the date of the article. August is almost over and classes have resumed or are about to begin in full swing, it may be time to prepare for the possibility for all classes to transition to online education.

High schools across the U.S. have been scrutinized for not properly enforcing social distancing and their careless rules on mask-wearing. Elwood High School in Indiana has already closed due to students testing positive for COVID-19, and a few high school’s in a district of Georgia have quarantined over 900 students due to potential exposure to the virus. That being said, it wouldn’t come as a shock if the same thing happened at universities. It’s important to get your mindset ready for your classes to move online in case it happens. It came as a huge shock to students and staff during the transition to online in March but with the cases still surging in locations across the U.S. don’t be surprised if online classes become the new norm this semester.

Get ready to mask up

With a growing emphasis on the importance of mask-wearing, universities will likely require masks for the fall semester. As of now, there’s not one all-encompassing rule regarding mask-wearing that universities are following. Some universities recommend mask-wearing, like Montana University, which means that they will encourage students to wear them, but has no rules in place to make students and faculty wear a mask. Others universities require it, like the University of Georgia. While others have no rules or recommendations in place like South Dakota’s public universities, but are encouraging students to wear masks through college run social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

According to a survey conducted by Business Wire, 62% of Americans, age 18 to 23 years-old, who are a part of Generation Z/Gen Z are always wearing a face mask in public settings.

If that percentage goes up once fall semester hits, Gen Z will have a huge impact on slowing the spread. Some students may live with their families or folks who are immunocompromised. So, it’s important to Gen Z to be safe for their family's sake. This virus makes the college experience quite different for this age group, but having sympathy for others and keeping your morals in check will go a long way to save lives, so prepare to mask up this fall semester.

Say goodbye to fall break

With student travel being an issue regarding spreading COVID-19, many colleges have cancelled fall break. Fall break is usually a time for students to take vacations or visit family, and colleges have cancelled this break so that students are not returning to campus while possibly carrying the virus. That being said, some schools like Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska  have decided to start school early and end when Thanksgiving break rolls around for the same reason.

The main idea is to limit travel to slow the spread, so expect to either go back to class early, for classes to end early, or to not have a fall break this semester.

Budget cuts

COVID-19 is having a serious financial impact on universities. Many schools are having to resort to budget cuts, cancelling programs, and letting staff go. Plan for university-funded clubs to go under, sports programs to be cancelled, and academic programs to disappear.

With low enrollment rates, colleges have had revenue loss up in the hundreds of millions. Robert Franek, editor-in -chief of The Princeton Review, states that priorities will be shifted away from the value of a liberal arts education and focusing on degrees that pay.

“We are going to start to see those programs marketed that have a direct return on investment — that will prepare that student for a job,” said Robert Frank, Editor in Chief.

It won’t be an easy semester but with determination and will power, your passion and resilience will be unmatched.

Getting Hired During a Pandemic

In the middle of a global pandemic, getting a job is a relief for many college students.

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Education at Work is adjusting to the needs of students getting interviewed, hired, trained, and working the job - all from home. In the middle of a global pandemic, getting a job is a relief for many college students.

A majority of college students in the workforce have been thrown into an unstable job market as the global COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S. in early spring. Meanwhile, EAW recruitment, in Arizona, has seen a rise in applications for various EAW programs in March by 13%.

“I’m just really relieved to have a job,” says Tanner Bayles, a recently hired EAW student employee. Tanner is a junior attending Arizona State University – whose classes switched to remote learning during the spring 2020 semester.

Tanner was able to go through the EAW hiring process remotely, with the exception of an in-person orientation for equipment processing. The recruitment process includes application review, an interview over-the-phone, an in-person orientation day to pick up equipment, and remote training from home. In-person orientations have followed the CDC Guidelines for social distancing, cleanliness, and facial coverings. After orientation, Tanner started working remotely – joining all EAW students in the company’s work-from-home initiative.

A large part of the recruitment process is training – before students start on their first day, they learn all about how their systems work, how to do the job, and who to contact for assistance.

“Training was fun and interactive, it was definitely very smooth considering the abruptness and amount of planning that had to go into a short period of time,” says Justin Proudfoot, an ASU student who is about to finish his junior year and was hired at EAW in May after finding the opportunity via Handshake.

With a work-from-home initiative and remote hiring process, various EAW programs have been able to expand their recruitment pools.

According to the EAW recruitment team, there are more opportunities for students to be hired on to a specific program due to open schedules and less commuting time for the student.

"A student who may be interested in the Downtown Phoenix program, for example, because of their degree program, may not have been able to make the regular commute before,” says a recruitment representative. “That isn't necessarily the case now if everything is remote."

Justin says he saw EAW as “a really great opportunity,” in which he could earn an income from the safety of his home during the pandemic.

Training is the last stage in the recruitment process before a new-hire starts their first day.

“(Training) has been going pretty good, our last class saw 21 graduates and everyone is performing really well,” says Kayla Bangert, an EAW trainer who is looking forward to seeing her classes in person once the pandemic subsides.

“What these students are doing is really hard to do, and I applaud them,” Kayla says. “A typical, in-person class develops a kind of closeness with each other, and they’ve kept that atmosphere even with remote training.”

Justin says he continues to stay in touch with his training class even after starting the job and being assigned to a team. He says he feels more of a tightness with his class than with his production team, and his classmates lean on each other for support.

“Once it’s safe, I’m excited to go back to the center, once it’s safe for everyone,” Tanner says. “I can’t wait to meet everyone in person, but I’m so relieved I found a job where I can work safely.”

First Generation: Genesis Ortiz

For Genesis Ortiz, life is full of firsts.

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Xavier Alan Guerrero Toquinto

"At work, at EAW, with supervisors and student leaders, they’ve all been super helpful because they’ve gone through all of this. My supervisor was a super big help – they’re always there."

For Genesis Ortiz, life is full of firsts. She is the first in her immediate family to go to college – where she is studying civic and economic thought and leadership at Arizona State University. She just finished her first year in college, and she just signed a lease for her first apartment.

Originally from Avondale, Arizona, this first-generation student has been working with Education at Work for almost a full year.

“Even though my mom didn’t go to college, she knew it’s what she wanted for her kids,” Genesis says. “She’s always been on top of joining mom groups, asking her friends at work, asking how they did it for their kids. I had a lot of help from my mom and from my older cousin – she’s a year ahead of me so she went through it before me as a first-generation student as well.”

Genesis’ close relationship with her mother and the rest of her family inspired her to succeed and has been, she says, a constant source of support. Genesis is the oldest of four, with three younger brothers all relatively close in age to her.

She says EAW has continually taught her professionalism and real-world skills to help her in her field. “At work, at EAW, with supervisors and student leaders, they’ve all been super helpful because they’ve gone through all of this. My supervisor was a super big help – they’re always there."

Heading into her second year at ASU, Genesis says her hard work and support system has helped her reach multiple opportunities she may not have had otherwise. As she builds her resume with EAW, Genesis has signed a lease on her first apartment and was selected to participate in a study-abroad trip to Jerusalem with the ASU school of social work in summer, 2021.

Going forward, Genesis wants to continue to learn from ASU and EAW – navigating a definitive path between law and social work after she gains her undergraduate degree.

“I want to graduate with my bachelor’s in whatever I decide to pursue,” Genesis says. “My first goal, is to obtain my education and then I’ll go from there.”

First Generation: Gladys Zuniga

As a first-generation student and a senior at the University of Utah, Gladys constantly pushes herself to pursue her goals.

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"I do whatever I can to pursue my goals and get closer to where I want to be in my professional career."

When Gladys Hernandez Zuniga was thirteen years old, she would wake up in the early hours of the morning and help her dad with his landscaping business. She holds this experience close to her heart because it’s what motivates her to continue her college career.

“In the future I want to be able to support my parents and have them not work as hard as they do now,” says Gladys.

As a first-generation student and a senior at the University of Utah, Gladys constantly pushes herself to pursue her goals and get closer to where she wants to be in her professional career. Gladys is not only double majoring in sociology and criminology but is also double minoring in Chicano/Chicana studies and political science. She plans on going to law school after graduation.

To balance her academics, Gladys is also a Data Quality Analyst for Education at Work. She helps transition students into their schedules and guides in their positions after training. She helps students of they have questions or need to know what is expected of them. Gladys is the glue that holds it all together!

Growing up, college was always discussed in her household. Gladys was the only one to graduate high school in her family.

“My parents weren’t able to do so when they were in Mexico. School has been a big thing for me,” she says. “Stories about people walking the stage for graduation is what kept me motivated to keep going to school all of these years.”

“I do whatever I can to pursue my goals and get closer to where I want to be in my professional career,” says Gladys.

In Mexico, her cousins have been involved in organized crime, and she says that really pushes her to stick with her goals.

With graduating inching closer, Gladys has also been interning at the district court house doing probate cases and legal guardianship. She notes that her internship and going to a 4-year university are her two proudest accomplishments. Gladys has also earned approximately $6,000 in tuition assistance, and we believe that is something to be extremely proud of. Congratulations Gladys!

First Generation: Gus Flores

Gus says he originally planned to bus tables for the rest of his college career until a friend told him about EAW.

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"I’ve learned skills that I don’t think I would've by just sitting in a classroom. I got my foot in the door and feel like I’m way ahead professionally."

Gus Flores is a junior at the University of Utah studying economics with a minor in French, a Student Supervisor at Education at Work and a first-generation student.

Gus says he originally planned to bus tables for the rest of his college career until a friend who worked at EAW told him about the part-time opportunities available to students. He said he was quick to apply because of the tuition assistance program which means a lot to him because he's paying for college on his own.

“I love this position,” says Gus of his student supervisor role. “It was a good opportunity to get the soft skills I was missing. It was a self-conquest. In high school I just wanted to breeze through, get the diploma and get out. I didn’t want anything to do with academics. This position acts as academic involvement for me because I feel like an advisor at times.”

Since high school Gus knew that we would go to college. “My parents always said ‘go to college.’ I wanted to be a first generation student,” says Gus.

As a student heading into his junior year this fall, Gus says graduation continues to push him to do this best inside and outside the classroom. To date Gus has earned more than $5,000 in tuition assistance from EAW.

“I’ve learned skills that I don’t think I would've by just sitting in a classroom. I got my foot in the door and feel like I’m way ahead professionally.”

First Generation: Holly Milosevich

Meet Holly Milosevich, the first in her family to enroll in university. Now that she’s here, she’s determined to meet the goals she’s set.

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"I'm really proud of my accomplishments while in college."

Meet Holly Milosevich, the first in her family to enroll in university. Now that she’s here, she’s determined to meet the goals she’s set for herself while she completes her studies.

“I’m really proud of my accomplishments and my achievements while in college,” Holly says.

Holly is a first-generation student at Arizona State University. Originally from Gold Canyon, Ariz., she commuted to campus during the school year to study accounting and computer information systems to meet her goal of working in financial forensics after graduation.

Holly’s goals have always included going to college and studying something she enjoys. Now, she’s going into her junior year at ASU and is on track to be the first member of her family to get their degree.

“My parents sacrificed a lot so I could go to college, so I wanted to do it for them too,” Holly says.

Holly’s family, originally from Croatia, have been supportive from the beginning. According to Holly, her family is as supportive as they can be, and she has had a strong support system of friends and colleagues to help her enroll into ASU, work through her degree, and meet her goals.

“One of my biggest goals is to graduate Summa Cum Laude from ASU,” Holly says. “Ever since I started college, achieving in that environment has always been important to me, so that's my biggest goal is graduating with that honor from ASU. My goals career-wise are to start at some job with tasks relating to what I'm ultimately going to do and meeting what my career goals are.”

Holly has worked for EAW for over a year, saying the job has helped her both directly and indirectly by giving her skills related to her major along with resume-building experiences she can use after graduation. Specifically, Holly says she’s learned a lot about communication and becoming a leader for her team.

“It's definitely not something I was when I started college, and the experience [with EAW] has helped me grow in that respect,” Holly says.

Her position at EAW allows her to manage financial accounts and represent customer callers with account inquires, giving her a role in an accounting field in line with her major and career goals.

Holly is set to graduate debt-free. She says EAW’s tuition assistance has been a huge financial relief, earning her approximately $6,500 in her three semesters working.

“EAW’s tuition assistance is the final piece of the puzzle in paying for all my tuition costs and allows me to attend college with no cost and no debt, and that’s definitely important to be able to go through college without that debt attached to me.”

First Generation: Lizbeth Fonseca

Lizbeth Fonseca has a lot to be proud of. As a first-generation student, she has continued to be resilient in her efforts to pursue her dreams.

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Xavier Alan Guerrero Toquinto

"I'm really proud of myself for getting this far."

Lizbeth Fonseca has a lot to be proud of. As a first-generation student, she has continued to be resilient in her efforts to pursue her dreams. Lizbeth is a senior studying finance at The University of Texas at Dallas who jumped at the opportunity to work for EAW’s leading financial services client this summer.

Lizbeth was born in Mexico and came to the United States when she was only a few months old. She started her journey in Chicago, then moved to Denver and moved once again, landing at her current residence in Texas. She notes that her biggest motivation in life is her mother. “My mother had cancer for 10 years and she recently passed away. I’m doing this for her, and that motivates me,” she says.

Lizbeth’s mother was an accountant in Mexico but was unable to keep pursuing that career in the states. “Seeing her do things to help the family makes me want to do the same thing for myself,” says Lizbeth. “There are no barriers to success.” With this mindset, Lizbeth always knew that college was a goal for her.

Being a first-generation student can be tough, but Lizbeth has felt constant support from her professors, friends, and family. With her new job at EAW, she feels that she is surrounded by a supportive group of people. With this new position, she notes that she is proud of herself for getting as far as she has.

“I’m proud that even though I had family members that told me I wouldn’t be able to go to college since I don’t have papers and this and that, I still made it here,” she says. Not only has Lizbeth pursued a career in finance but she also plans to get her masters after graduation as well. She notes that one of her biggest accomplishments was earning a $10,000 scholarship in her freshman year.

First Generation: Miguel Valladares

He says he found some relief through his employment with Education at Work, and he plans to make his childhood dream come true.

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Miguel Valladares is an Arizona State University student studying sport business, and entering his sophomore year in college. He is also the oldest of four, Mexican-American, and a first-generation collect student.

“To go on and get into college,” Miguel says, “it made my parents proud and it made me proud because it’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a child.”

He says he found some relief through his employment with Education at Work, and he plans to make his childhood dream come true.

Miguel started with EAW during the first semester of his freshman year in October 2019. After working in the fast food industry for several months, Miguel says applying for EAW was a relief because of its flexibility with student life . Six months later, Miguel – like other EAW students – is working from home as part of EAW’s initiative to keep students safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Living 30 minutes away from work and school in Glendale,  Miguel says he had to commute to school and work – navigating traffic, managing his time, and paying for parking permits. EAW’s work from home transition was a relief to Miguel.

Currently, Miguel is studying sports business and is planning on furthering his studies in business administration. Miguel says business is an area he’s enjoyed since high school, and he finds security in it being an extremely versatile degree for his career.

“EAW has  helped me in a lot of ways,” Miguel says. “Being able to show on my resume that I can do more than fast food – I’ve learned technical skills, people skills, being able to talk to people from different backgrounds – sometimes from other parts of the world, it’s really helped me develop empathy for others and respond effectively to situations. These are necessary in business, so it helps me in the long run as well.”

First-generation college students are often met with feeling isolated because of their responsibilities. Miguel says it difficult to relate to his support system because he is the only one to attend college while working a part-time job and keeping up his grade point average. For Miguel – and other first-generation students – there is an unspoken truth about the pressure they have to succeed.

“The people around me do their best to support me and I appreciate that,” Miguel says. “At the same time, I do feel that sense of pressure. I feel like you can have this weight on your back where you have to graduate college because you are at this point, so you have to show the results for it.”

Throughout all the pressure, Miguel stills finds himself proud of everything he’s accomplished so far and everyone who played a role in getting him to this point.

As Miguel finishes his freshman year and prepares for his sophomore semester in the fall, he reflected on his goals and why his expectations for himself are extremely high.

“I’ve had this goal since I was a child: go to college and be successful,” Miguel says. “I want to complete that goal and be able to say I graduated, have a good income, can provide for my parents and my loved ones, and live a stable life.”

Miguel looks forward to continuing his studies and navigating college life with the help of EAW as he continues to add to his resume, earn tuition assistance, and gain valuable real-world job experiences.

EAW in the Family

Alan and Amala Paul Mundadan bring a new meaning to “EAW Family.”

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Alan and Amala Paul Mundadan bring a new meaning to “EAW Family.” The two siblings have been working for the same program with Education at Work for about five months.   

These siblings live together with their family and – after the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States – now work together in the same house. Previous to COVID-19, they often wouldn’t be found together outside of work and home life.  That’s because Alan’s class work on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus and Amala’s likewise responsibilities on the Phoenix campus used to keep them apart.   

Before COVID-19, they would work similar shifts, go to class, and see each other again at home – now that ASU has transitioned to online classes, and EAW has launched their work-from-home initiative, the two are spending far more time together.   

“We definitely did not plan this,” Amala says. “I was waiting for my freshman year to be over because I wanted to see how I could handle the classes and working. [Applying for the same company] was a coincidence!” 

Meet Alan

Alan is about to start his junior year at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. Majoring in computer sciences, Alan is hoping to learn different aspects of his future career field – specifically the business side of computer sciences and development. If he would give advice to his younger self, Alan says that advice would be to go to college without a salary at the forefront of planning.  

“For me, I just Googled which majors get paid really well, and I chose computer science,” Alan says. “I was like, ‘yeah sure, I can do that,’ and now I would prefer doing something on the business side of that field.” 

While he works on his degree and ventures into the different areas of his field, Alan says EAW has helped him keep up with his major through real-world experience and financial support.   

“It adds to my major and EAW definitely helps me financially,” Alan says. “Most of the things I do here are related to my classes. A lot of technical skills are connected, and while I do them at work, it makes more sense in my classes.” 


Meet Amala

Amala just finished her freshman year at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus. Amala is majoring in community health with the goal of getting into nursing – then continuing her education in medical school. Amala says she’s always loved helping people and she has many relatives who are in the medical field.   

“When I was younger, I was exposed to hospitals a lot,” Amala says. “I have a lot of family in the medical field, and I am related to a lot of people who used to get sick often. Before my father passed away, he was admitted to the hospital for seven months so I spent a lot of time there. I think that’s when I first thought, ‘maybe I should work to help people because that’s what I really like to do.’” 

Amala says her job with EAW surprised her in how well it suits her major. Amala focused on her coursework during her first year at ASU – once she successfully navigated her academic life, she was ready to start up her work life and learn about work/life balance. 

“I really want to be in the medical field because I like helping people,” Amala says. “Working at EAW – it’s basically the same thing, we’re helping people, just in a different way.” 

While the sibling duo may not have planned to work at the same company, this is actually not the first time their family members have worked together. Alan says his previous job was also shared with another sister.   

“The previous job I had was at a library, and my other sister started working with me,” Alan says. “So, for me, there’s always been a sibling there with me.”  

The Paul Mundadan siblings say working together comes with plenty of advantages – such as turning toward each other when they have a quick question about a customer call.   

“I had just finished my training classes before we started working from home,” Amala says, “and he was right beside me, so whenever I did have a question, I could literally tap him on the shoulder and ask. He’s more experienced than I am, so he’s been able to help me whenever I have an issue. I don’t think many other agents have that.”  

Alan and Amala are both working their way through college with visions for what their futures hold after they complete their education. Along the way, the siblings agree that being an EAW Family has given them both invaluable experience and financial assistance.