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Pandemic Spurs A Student's College Plan Pivot


This is the time of year when spring semester is coming to an end. And for high school seniors, that usually means prom, preparing for graduation and, most importantly, considering next steps, whether that's college or a training program or a gap year.

But there's nothing usual about this semester for the class of 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has thrown just about everybody's plans up in the air. And now, faced with the prospect of yet more remote learning, the rising cost of post-secondary education and record student loan debt, some high school seniors are changing their plans for September, choosing local, less expensive public universities or community colleges rather than the four-year schools they might have wanted to attend in a pre-pandemic world.

And we're going to speak to one of them now. Ariadne Quintero is a graduating student at Acceleration East High School in Orlando, Fla. And she'll be attending her local community college, Valencia, in the fall.

Ariadne Quintero, thanks so much for talking to us.

ARIADNE QUINTERO: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And congratulations on graduating. I mean, you earned it, right?

QUINTERO: Yeah. Thank you.

MARTIN: So can you just start by telling us how the whole situation has affected your final semester of high school? Like, what's it been like?

QUINTERO: Well, it's certainly been weird in general because, you know, like, I think everyone was expecting to have, like, their final day at school - you know, walking out of, like, the doors one last time, saying bye to all your friends who you may or may not see again - and just, you know, our final, like, events - prom, graduation. But all that was just taken away from us.

I keep discussing with my friends how the last time we saw each other, we walked out thinking that we were just going to go on spring break, and then we would come back next week and see each other again. But that wasn't the reality.

MARTIN: And what about your folks? Are they at home? Or what's going on with them, if you don't mind my asking?

QUINTERO: They still have their jobs, but their hours have been cut down significantly. My mom's paycheck is now half of what it used to be. And my stepdad - he does deliveries for Amazon Prime, and even they have cut down their hours.

MARTIN: So what had been your plan for September? And how has it changed?

QUINTERO: Well, at first, I planned to either attend the University of Minnesota or the University of Florida State, and depending on whether my mom was going to move because she wanted to move to Buffalo. But once the pandemic hit, she didn't want to leave a job where she had a stable income.

MARTIN: So if you were to stay in Florida, would that be in-state tuition? Was that one of the factors? How were you trying to figure it out - like, sort itself out? What were the factors in your decision-making?

QUINTERO: At the University of Minnesota, they were offering me a scholarship, but it wasn't that much money. And, like, if I went to Minnesota, I will have to either pay more for campus housing or just find an apartment for myself. And, like, with the pandemic, we thought that would just be too much - like, too many expenses that we just couldn't afford. Which is when I was, like, I might just stay in state, you know, since my mom's not leaving either, and I could at least be closer to home.

MARTIN: For a lot of people, going away to school is something they really look forward to - I mean, being on your own, trying to figure your things out for yourself, having some privacy. Was that something that you had been looking forward to?

QUINTERO: Yeah. I did. I have my brother. He's autistic, and I am mostly his primary caregiver because my mom and my stepdad work all the while. And I guess for me, going away to college would have meant, you know, finally having some freedom and some time for myself.

MARTIN: So when did you decide that that wasn't in the cards, at least for now? What was the deciding factor?

QUINTERO: Yeah, I guess it was just seeing how my mom - when she decided that she was going to stay, that's when I talked to my school counselor. And I was, like, I'm going to stay in Florida, and I don't know what I should do. And then Florida State University - I talked to them, and they weren't offering me much financial aid, either. So my counselor suggested going to Valencia, since it's a community college, and there would be much less expenses - like, more affordable.

So I - that's when I looked more into it, and I decided that that's where I was going to go - at least for now - and then see where it goes from there. I would like to transfer to a four-year university for my Bachelor's.

MARTIN: Ariadne Quintero is a graduating senior at Acceleration East High School in Orlando, Fla., and she's decided to attend her local community college in the fall instead of the four-year college she was hoping to attend.

Ariadne, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.

QUINTERO: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.