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UMaine students seek security from institutional support systems

Since the University of Maine System announced the decision to move all courses to remote instruction due to the coronavirus pandemic, many students have been feeling the pressure of academic expectations. The challenge of staying on top of academic requirements, such as continuing to participate in classroom discussions and turning in papers in a timely manner, has also been combined with the added economic and financial burdens of sweeping unemployment.

While many students were preparing to apply for summer jobs, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many to rethink their summer plans. For first-year music education student Martinique Shaw, the circumstances have pushed her to rearrange her course load and pick up a summer class.

“With the stress of having to move off-campus in such a short period of time while dealing with temporary housing situations, I felt I could not put nearly as much effort into one of my spring courses as I wanted to,” Shaw said. “As such, in an effort to take off a little stress I withdrew from that course and instead pushed it back to the summer, as this is one of my courses I am required to take.”

Shaw states that she is hoping to continue to pursue a bachelor’s degree and does not see her academic plans changing in the fall of 2020 if courses continue with a remote learning format. However, she did note that her housing plans had changed for the fall, as she is now planning on living in off-campus housing.

This decision to live in off-campus housing while continuing to pursue a remote education is a choice that many students have made, with an abundance of UMaine students choosing to live in or around the Orono area while continuing their spring semester, as opposed to moving back home with family, in order to maintain some kind of school routine.

However, this routine has been challenged, as many students are now faced with the decision of renewing their leases as the end of the spring semester approaches. Some students have voiced concern for the fall semester and have expressed anxiety about the possibility of the fall semester continuing in a remote fashion.

“As someone who has participated in the university’s music ensembles, one of my biggest concerns would be [how the university can support these programs] … what will happen to those students planning on participating in these ensembles,” Shaw said.

Shaw also raised concerns about students who may be relying on assistance from scholarships to continue their education. Merit-based scholarships help ease the cost of pursuing a bachelor’s degree, and UMaine students are left wondering how financial aid offices will be considering students’ scholarship awards.

Shaw noted that she has already had issues with connecting with the UMaine Financial Aid office, and states that she hopes that the office will find an efficient way to connect with students in order to address their anxieties about scholarships, loan payments and other financial aid issues.

“As someone who is currently making payments on my student bill, I ran into an issue where I could not register for classes due to a hold on my account. I was instructed to call the financial aid office but was then immediately directed back to an email,” Shaw said. “I feel that it would be important and helpful in the future for the financial aid office to send out an email to students directing them to email rather than to place a phone call. This would be especially helpful if this pandemic continues throughout the rest of the year.”

As students grapple with the evolving future of academia, one of the biggest concerns that students hope faculty can address is the uncertainty that many feel about the ability of institutional support systems to assist students during this transition. While the pandemic has demonstrated that many institutional structures were not prepared to provide adequate support in this time of crisis, students are hoping to see the University of Maine System work to support the community in a meaningful way that allows students to continue to pursue higher education.

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