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Reimagining the Road to Graduation

The Need for Extraordinary Systems to Get Students to and Through College

What are the lived experiences of young people navigating the road to and through college during COVID-19?



Mel   /   Anna   /   Xavier   /   Frankie   /   Alejandro


Meet Alejandro

Alejandro is in his second year at a community college in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, but he’s currently living at home while he takes all his coursework virtually. He is preparing to transfer to a four-year college and major in prelaw. 

After college, Alejandro wants to practice civil rights or immigration law to support causes he cares about in his community. Since the pandemic started last spring, however, he’s had increasing difficulty finding information about transferring to a new school.

In the spring, Alejandro couldn’t find an internship related to law, and instead he took a job at a local landscaping company. Although he was glad to have the job, he knows that an internship in the legal field would have positioned him better for law school and beyond. And given that some of his friends who have graduated are struggling with similar issues, he is starting to worry about his long-term career prospects:

“There are so many people with college degrees right now who don't have jobs. …It's hard to picture what it will look like when we graduate.”

Alejandro has enjoyed being able to spend more time with his parents and help take care of his two younger siblings. And as part of a religious family, he’s glad to remain connected to his church community. However, Alejandro admits that balancing school, work, and home life is becoming stressful and distracting academically. As a first-generation college student and the oldest sibling, he doesn’t have many people to confide in who understand his experience. “There is a lot of stress on my shoulders to figure out how I’m going to transfer out of community college.”

Because Alejandro is a DACA recipient, he is not eligible for federal financial aid at his current or transfer school, so he worries about affording a four-year college. And since English isn’t his family’s first language, he struggles to explain questions on the TASFA (Texas Application for State Financial Aid) about their income, taxes, and assets. His immigration status is an increasing source of concern.

The questions on Alejandro’s mind are: “How can I successfully transfer to a four-year school, and when I graduate, what jobs are out there?”

Alejandro’s Supporters

Community-based organization: Alejandro’s church community has been a source of stability, even though services have been limited due to the pandemic. 

Community-based organization: Because of his status as a DACA recipient, Alejandro and his family have gotten pro bono advice from a legal services agency a couple of times. The extra help has been valuable when it comes to the many applications and forms Alejandro has to complete. 

Higher education staff: Alejandro has had several interactions with the academic dean for first-generation students on campus. The dean has directed him to useful resources, encouraged him to attend student networking and social events, and asked about how the center can better support students like Alejandro.

Learn more about these and other supporters in students’ lives here.

Alejandro's Challenges

Attending college while living at home challenges school-life balance. Barriers to fully engaging in college coursework and activities include increased demands from parents and siblings, as well as limited physical space conducive to studying.

Transfer options are not advertised or streamlined. Students often struggle to find information on transferring credits or what financial aid they can tap into at a new school. The pandemic has complicated an already challenging process.

COVID-19 has impacted work options for students. Due to the pandemic, many students have had their internships canceled (often without compensation), shortened, or switched to virtual, and students searching for internships in their desired fields are finding their options limited.

Learn more about the challenges students are facing here

Recommendations for Supporting Alejandro

Policymakers and funders and intermediaries can provide and distribute emergency financial assistance to college students. 

K-12 schools and college access organizations can expand access to career skill-building opportunities, ideally connected to students’ interests/field of study, including options that allow students to earn credit and/or income (e.g., paid apprenticeships, credit-bearing internships, and career and technical coursework). 

Institutions of higher education and employers can create strong partnerships to ensure alignment between workforce demands and education offerings and to raise awareness about career pathways.

View our full set of recommendations here.