Aside from their education now taking place online, Ohio University students are facing additional financial challenges amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
As students were directed off-campus to finish spring semester courses online, many were left reeling about how to pay rent for apartments they are no longer living in, displacement from the residence halls that were ordered to be vacated and losing on- and off-campus jobs.
“Being a freshman, everything is already new, and I only just adjusted to life in Athens,” said 19-year-old Abby Neff. “I feel like I just had the rug pulled out from under me.”
Neff, along with many other students, worked several jobs in order to fund her education, as well as save for a future apartment. After Gov. Mike DeWine’s mandate that all bars and restaurants close except for carry-out options, in culmination with her displacement from her residence hall, Neff could no longer work at Court Street Coffee because of reduced hours and staff. She was also laid off from her job as waitress at a Japanese steakhouse in Powell because of the pandemic.
“I lost two jobs in the past week, which sucks,” she said. “I never really thought it would be like this, and I never thought I’d have to file for unemployment before. It’s kind of scary.”
Neff feels fortunate in that Ohio University is prorating meal plans and residence hall fees that students can no longer use during the remainder of the semester, and for the fact that she can move home to live at her parents’ house without any loss.
Others aren’t so lucky.
“I’m in a rough spot personally because I just signed a lease under the assumption that I would have worked 30 hours a week from early March until the lease started. Obviously, I am not,” said 23-year-old Ben Edgington, who was hired in December to work at Bubbles Tea & Juice Company, a Columbus-based Boba tea shop that was supposed to open on Court Street in early March. He was trained over spring break for the shop’s debut, but now the opening date is now pushed back indefinitely.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen for me next,” he said. That’s the most concerning part. I don’t know what to do or what I can do. Nowhere is hiring right now. Everybody is looking for a job.”
While seniors unknowingly sat in their last class before spring break, unaware of their college career coming to an unceremonious close, so did student employees.
“It’s sad and disheartening because I’ve had this job now for four years and enjoyed it so much,” said 22-year-old Whitley Gray of Charlotte, North Carolina, who worked as a university tour guide and a receptionist for the admissions office. “I had this job for four years to save up for grad school, so that’s definitely a cut, but it’s sad to know that I had my last shift or I’d given my last tour without even knowing it.”
Some departments are finding creative ways to help student employees work remotely. That includes the admissions office, who will be allowing tour guides to offer virtual tours and speak to prospective students and parents.
Other students who were laid off from off-campus jobs have the opportunity to file for unemployment benefits amid the crisis. On the Sunday that restaurants and bars were mandated to close besides carry-out, Ohio received 11,995 unemployment claims, compared to 562 applicants the previous Sunday.
Edgington has filed for unemployment benefits, but said he’s facing technology difficulties verifying information or uploading documents because the site is currently overloaded with applicants and slow or crashing.
“I will definitely be filing for unemployment,” Neff said in the wake of losing her jobs. “This is making me empathize with people whose reality is like this all the time, not just in this pandemic. I feel like there’s a stigma, but this virus is exposing the reality of those hardships some people face every day.”