Online learning has been a challenge.
I have trouble focusing on screens for a long time or verbally participating in class, and I am more exhausted at the end of the day than I ever was with in-person classes.
Students cannot effectively learn online, nor can they justify taking out student loans or paying full tuition to learn from home.
Following Temple University’s announcement on Nov. 2 that the majority of courses would be held online next semester, the university should have reminded students of the option to take a leave of absence, along with the necessary steps to do so. This could be worthwhile for students, especially if they are not receiving the education they paid for, as they could work full-time and save money before coming back.
I took a one-and-a-half-year break after receiving my undergraduate degree in 2018. The time off allowed me to explore an unconventional job path and figure out what my goals actually were.
Students can take a leave of absence for up to two consecutive semesters without having to reapply for enrollment. They must fill out a self-service form on TUPortal and can only be approved for the next semester, according to the Office of the University Registrar.
Online learning wasn’t necessarily what I was hoping for when I enrolled in a Master of Journalism program in 2020. I would’ve liked to have known more about the opportunity to defer my enrollment until I could receive an in-person education at a later date through emails or information sessions.
When students disenroll from classes, they stop paying tuition and, likewise, stop receiving financial aid, according to the 2020-21 bulletin. Students are eligible to reapply for financial aid upon their return, but there is no guarantee they will receive the same amount, if anything at all, creating a barrier for students from low-income backgrounds.
Scholarship policies vary, but some may require constant enrollment and disqualify students who take a leave of absence, said Daniel Berman, the vice provost for undergraduate studies.
“There are drawbacks to taking a leave of absence,” Berman added. “It sets you back in your progress toward your degree. Sometimes there are financial aid implications.”
Additionally, the Office of the University Registrar is required to report a student on leave as withdrawn to the United States Department of Education, and students must begin repaying federal loans after six months, said James Mundie, the associate registrar for the Office of the University Registrar.
“Students who have taken a yearlong year of absence will get halfway through and be surprised to learn they have to start paying back loans,” Mundie added. “The other problem is they are extending their time to graduation, which in the long run could end up costing them more money.”
But an online education may seem like a waste of money with interruptions like technological issues or background noise from an unmuted microphone.
“Some students who aren’t 100 percent comfortable with online coursework,” Mundie said. “Others are experiencing financial stress because their parents have lost their jobs and cannot afford tuition right now. Others have contracted COVID-19 and cannot participate.”
If students are struggling, regardless of the reason, they should be encouraged by their university to take time off and return under more ideal circumstances.
Tara Bran, a 2018 psychology alumna, took a medical leave in Spring 2015 after the sudden death of her father. Despite emailing the Dean of Students that she wouldn’t be returning the following semester, she failed every class, she said
“In order to have the F’s overturned, I had to go to campus and write out my extenuating circumstances,” Bran said. “It was extremely difficult to come back between the paperwork and the emotional toll, but I do recommend students take a leave of absence if they need to.”
Temple has since facilitated the process by moving the application online, and students will have an additional week to apply compared to other semesters because of the delayed start of the semester, Mundie said.
However, Temple should be more supportive of students who need a leave by allowing students to retain their financial aid disbursements and enrollment verification, as well as emphasizing the psychological value a leave of absence may offer them.
Students have been asked to compromise their education and mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As online learning will be the new normal for the foreseeable future, students should consider whether or not the benefit of receiving a degree in four years is worth giving up the college experience.