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, 56% of college students said they can no longer afford tuition. According to and, 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.