By: Jen Hasbun

Mount Saint Mary’s off-campus students are struggling to keep their heads above water this semester. Hybrid and online courses require more time from their schedules than they can afford to give, and striking an even balance between work, academia and safety has proven to be more difficult than they initially thought it would be.

To many, remote learning might at first seem like an attractive option. Online courses save commuters gas money and because they don’t have to drive back and forth to campus every day, they have more time to spend working on homework or decompressing. But a number of the Mount’s online courses are asynchronous – or became asynchronous shortly after the semester began – and many students feel that without face-to-face instruction to reinforce their learning, they’re being forced to teach themselves.

“I’m relying on watching YouTube videos and asking questions on online forums to get by in all my classes,” said a Mount student who preferred to remain anonymous, “so it’s like, why am I paying to go to college if I’m teaching everything to myself? I’m not really learning anything.”

Although online classes are a universal problem for all students in the age of COVID-19, many commuters feel their negative experience is aggravated by a new inability to manage their time. Some students who have separate classes on Zoom and in-person on the same day, like one Mount junior, have had to completely restructure their daily lives to ensure they won’t fall behind on their assignments.

“I have one face-to-face class early in the morning and another one right after that’s on Zoom, so I actually have to stay on campus longer because I won’t make it home on time for the Zoom class,” said the junior. “I also share a car, so I’ve had to play around with my schedule to make sure it works out. It makes my life a lot harder and I wish all the schools would stick to an online format until this all blows over.” 

Others, such as one senior who works three jobs in addition to attending the Mount full-time, feel that working students are misunderstood, and that there are underlying misconceptions regarding how commuters are choosing to spend their extra time.

“I’m sure that there are plenty of other students like me who are scrambling with multiple jobs to make ends meet, and I feel like a lot of [the professors] think that we are all sitting at home watching Netflix all day and have all this time to do crazy amounts of work,” said the senior, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, “I’m sure that’s true for some students, but some of us are really struggling out here.” 

Perhaps the most pressing concern for commuter students has been the fear of getting infected, or infecting their close friends and family members with the virus. On Sept. 21, the college’s Pandemic Response Team announced that the Mount had recorded its first positive case of COVID-19 on campus; the statement noted that the infected individual was a commuter student, and that anyone who had come in contact with the individual would be made aware of that fact. 

Over the past few weeks, a number of neighboring colleges and universities have also suffered spikes in COVID-19 cases that forced them to close. Gov. Cuomo deployed a medical SWAT team to SUNY Oneonta less than two weeks into the fall semester, and SUNY Oswego officials announced that they would move all classes online for two weeks to stem the spread of infection after reporting that there were over 100 positive cases on the school’s campus. 

The nearby developments have prompted questions over whether Mount Saint Mary’s efforts to prevent the coronavirus’ spread will make enough of a difference to keep the college’s doors open, especially now that the virus has a confirmed presence on campus. Regardless, for many commuter students, the risk of becoming infected isn’t one worth taking.

“I wouldn’t come to school if I had the choice,” said the junior student. “It’s not me that I worry about. I have an immunocompromised relative that I really don’t want to get sick, and I don’t think that the school can guarantee our safety if they aren’t actively testing.” 

As the semester progresses and the pandemic persists, it’s important to remain vigilant. Students experiencing even mild symptoms are strongly implored to stay home in order to mitigate the virus’ spread.