COVID-19 Impacts First-Generation Students

NC State Belltower at night with refractions of light

Coronavirus has profoundly impacted schools, universities and colleges worldwide. The pandemic has clearly affected the education system, exposed inequalities and shed light on societal and economic issues in our nation, like the digital divide, food insecurity and homelessness.

Last month, NC State transitioned to all online courses and required students who occupy university housing to remain at or return to their permanent off-campus residences unless granted an exception. These measures were implemented to keep the NC State community safe and to help limit the virus’ spread.

These changes to everyday life as a result of the virus have impacted students everywhere, but for first-generation students, many face added obstacles.

According to a National Center for Education Statistics report from 2018, a third of college students in the United States are first-generation, which generally refers to students whose parents do not have a four-year college degree.

Joselyn Ramirez-Mendoza, a junior and first-generation college student at NC State, has had to adjust to the new normal produced by the coronavirus and recognizes the obstacles many first-generation students are having.

“Academically speaking, I still get the work done but I do feel like I’ve been more lethargic,” says Ramirez-Mendoza about her online coursework. This is her first semester at NC State after transferring from Wake Tech through the NC State Community College Collaboration, or C3, a dual-admission, dual-enrollment program between NC State and eight regional community college partners.

In addition to the adjustment to online classes, some first-generation students are having to adjust to unprecedented changes to their ways of life, such as unemployment due to the virus.

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“Some people have jobs that will provide PTO (paid time off) but if you’re coming from a low income background, they don’t have that luxury. It’s harder for students. I don’t have to face that myself, but I see it because my family is going through it,” says Ramirez-Mendoza. Her mother and brother were recently laid off from their jobs, and while she isn’t living at home with them, she has seen the toll it has taken and knows many others are in the same position.

Events like this have made many universities worry that students won’t return to school this fall. “Administrators anticipate that students grappling with the financial and psychological impacts of the virus could choose to stay closer to home, go to less expensive schools, take a year off or not go to college at all,” says an Apr. 15, 2020 article in The New York Times.

“It does present a challenge for first-generation students,” says Ramirez-Mendoza. “But I also feel like they’ll persevere through it because that’s what we do. Hopefully the majority of students will come back because we have this knack to push through and persevere. And I hope the students who are highly affected by this will take advantage of the resources offered by NC State.”

NC State recognizes the hardships associated with these trying times and has a number of resources available for the Wolfpack community.

Resources for Students

Counseling Center

The Counseling Center remains open, providing all services exclusively by phone or secure video conferencing.

Student Emergency Fund

Students who are experiencing a financial crisis can apply to receive a one-time grant from the Student Emergency Fund.

Pack Essentials

Pack Essentials provides centralized online access to resources for students facing insecurity in food, housing or finances. To use Pack Essentials, students complete an application to determine their need. Students who qualify will be referred to the university programs or government services that can provide the help they need.

Feed the Pack

Feed the Pack, NC State’s community-based food pantry, provides free food to any NC State student, faculty or staff member experiencing food insecurity. Feed the Pack remains open, with modified hours and operations protocols.

Student Health Services

Student Health Services remains available to maintain ongoing healthcare (such as medication refills, follow-up regarding laboratory tests and brief questions) via secure messaging in the Healthy Pack Portal. A limited number of in-person appointments are available for students who need treatment for acute illness. To make an in-person appointment for acute illness, call 919.515.2563.


All library facilities are closed, but the libraries have expanded access to online resources and loaned technology such as laptops, mobile devices and accessories.

Jenna Nabors (she/her) is a third-year student majoring in communication and international studies and is a Park Scholar. Share your thoughts about this article on Twitter at @NCStateOIED.