At the start of the 2021-22 school year, Portland State students began the transition from completely online courses to either a full in-person or hybrid course schedule. Throughout the year, students have seen campus go from masks being required to being optional, in addition to an increasing number of in-person classes. Campus has gradually become bustling with student activity once again, and the once-empty Park Blocks have regained some of their pre-pandemic livelihood.
Because of PSU’s diverse student body, the shift back to a primarily in-person learning experience has affected students in several different ways.
“The transition from remote back to in-person has been easier than the transition to remote learning at the beginning of the pandemic, since I haven’t had to learn any new systems or programs to do so,” said freshman Nora Smith. “I would say the biggest advantage has been that I personally focus better when I’m in the classroom, since there isn’t anything for me to get side-tracked doing, so I am able to stay more on task. However, readjusting to the social aspect after not having classes with other students for over two years has been something that I feel everyone has had to overcome.”
The social component of returning to school in-person has created a whirlwind of emotions for some students. Socializing with classmates, chats between classes or meeting people at the dining hall are more anxiety-provoking for some students than it previously was. However, this doesn’t overshadow the importance of the ability to form organic friendships in-person, and many have reported making a couple of close friends during their time on campus.
“I think it’s definitely easier to find friends in classes in-person, but I think that’s sort of a given,” said freshman Rose Siragusa.
“Being on campus has helped my social life since I am surrounded by my peers, and it has been refreshing to be able to socialize with classmates again after the period of remote learning,” Smith said. “But since there is not a ton going on around campus, we’re never inclined to go out and do much on campus besides what we have to do, like classes and homework.”
Although various organizations on campus host events weekly, the turnout of students for events this year has been varied. Some events, like the midterm llama stress-relief event boasted an almost full-capacity turnout, while other events such as movie screenings have tended to have limited participants.
This turnout fluctuation might not be entirely because of the pandemic, as other factors such as the time and the date of the event can impact turnout as well. For example, most students do not live on campus, so a weekend or end-of-the-week event might suffer due to off-campus students not attending.
Because many of PSU’s students are working outside of school, or commuting from off-campus, many of them are interested in hybrid learning options.
“I’d love for PSU to keep some remote options in the schedule,” Siragusa said. “Though I’m a bit pissed they’ve raised the price for those classes since last fall. At this moment, on most online classes I’ve looked at, they’ve had a $150 or so charge that the same in-person class did not require. That is ridiculous, especially if you’re offering them with accessibility in mind. If you have the right teacher and the right motivation, I think remote options can be beneficial to a healthier lifestyle.”
A lot of students agree with Siragusa. Online courses cost significantly more than in-person classes in most cases, particularly if that class includes a section for a lab. With a 3.6% raise in resident tuition for the 2022-23 school year, increasing the cost of online classes that are more accessible or work better for some students is disappointing to many.
“I think what I am most excited for is that there are going to be options for students who want to remain remote next year,” said freshman Hunter Burr. “I think I would be less excited if it went back to all in-person with no online options offered for students, because I like people being able to have a choice, especially when it’s a choice a lot of people are choosing for safety. They’re choosing the safety of their families, [and] there are a lot of people at PSU who have children, have parents living with them, things like that. I want people to be able to be excited to be learning, whether it’s in an in-person or online space.”
Having the flexibility to create a schedule that allows students to work towards their degree, despite their circumstances, is something that many PSU students believe the school should strive to maintain—and regardless of the status of the pandemic, online courses have historically been a part of helping that happen.
However, despite the controversies and qualms of what to do next year, there have been countless laughs, friendships and events that would not have been possible without PSU’s efforts to return to in-person learning in the wake of the pandemic.