Enrollment at Hunter College rose from 23,193 in 2019 to 24,052 in 2020, according to a financial report from the University Budget Office, despite the coronavirus pandemic. While enrollment numbers rose, some students still struggled with mental and physical health concerns.
Last March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down in-person classes and operations at SUNY and CUNY campuses. Since then, classes throughout CUNY have been online with few exceptions.
The decision to shift to online classes came in hopes of curbing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. CUNY institutions, including Hunter, are overwhelmingly commuter schools, making it harder to slow the spread of the virus.
In early January, CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez announced that “CUNY will plan for a safe and gradual return to mostly in-person instruction and support services in time for the start of classes in Fall 2021.”
This past week, Gov. Cuomo announced that all SUNY and CUNY students must be vaccinated in order to return to in-person classes.
While online classes have allowed for the better physical safety of students, they are taking a toll on students’ mental health and learning capacities. A study performed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information estimated that 71% of college students experienced heightened levels of anxiety and depression amid the pandemic.
These increased levels came as a result of numerous stressors including health related stress, difficulty concentrating, little social interaction and concern about academic performance, the study found.
Hunter student Jack Cruse said he decided to take a semester off in fall of 2020 for similar reasons.
“I had been thinking about [taking a break] beforehand, but I was under a lot of pressure,” he said. “And then when Covid came about, I was like, ‘well, here’s a really good excuse to do it anyway.'”
Prior to taking a semester off, Cruse said he frequently overloaded his semesters, taking anywhere from 16 to 18 credits. Hunter recommends students take 15 credits each semester, and taking more than this amount requires a credit overload.
Cruse said the struggles of transitioning to online classes his sophomore year only added to his decision to take a break.
Max Zlotskiy, an honors student at Hunter, said he had his own concerns about returning to in-person classes.
“Personally, I learned less from online classes but I don’t mind them,” he said. “I have qualms about returning to campus. I don’t trust the Hunter administration to make it safe. They only know how to add more public safety checkpoints and bureaucratic hurdles. So I’m really relying on my vaccine to shield me.”
Following Gov. Cuomo’s vaccine mandate, Zlotskiy said that he would feel safer returning to campus if everyone was vaccinated and expressed disappointment in faculty not being required to be vaccinated.
“If an unvaccinated professor is lecturing at me for four hours a week, unmasked, with windows closed, I would be concerned,” Zlotsky said. “You never know how many other campuses they teach at.”