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Sarah Mancoll


How Might COVID-19 Exacerbate Existing Inequalities in Higher Education?

Sarah Mancoll, SPSSI Policy Director 

In September of 2020, a coalition of APA-affiliated bodies—including SPSSI—came together to produce a report on “The Impacts of COVID-19 on Psychology Education & Training: Concerns, Disparities, & Recommendations.” Spearheaded by APA Division 44 (Society for the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity) and APAGS (American Psychological Association of Graduate Students), this project posed three major questions: 1) How might COVID-19 affect higher education? 2) How might COVID-19 widen inequalities within higher education? 3) What can be done to address these concerns?

More than a dozen APA divisions, state psychological associations, and several committees and affiliates that represent student diversity concerns responded to these questions. Weighing in for SPSSI was a group of scholars assembled by then-President Dr. Stephanie Fryberg. Our group included Drs. Kim Case, Asia Eaton, Neil Lewis, Jr., Victoria Plaut, Abby Stewart, and Linda Tropp, along with Stephanie Fryberg and myself.

The 34-page report provides a detailed analysis of all responses submitted by entities that were invited to participate. Here, I’d like to pull out a few examples of responses that SPSSI submitted and that highlight some of our group’s biggest concerns about how COVID-19 might impact higher education and widen existing disparities:

Concerns specific to vulnerable student populations. Undocumented students are suffering from an inability to work or are being laid off. Current federal safety net programs are not available to them. Undocumented individuals are not eligible for unemployment insurance or CARES Act stimulus checks. First generation college students access many benefits as a result of being on campus. If they are no longer available, these students may receive a college degree without developing the social and cultural capital expected of a college graduate. For students on the autism spectrum, the impact of sudden changes to routine and isolation from social outlets has been overwhelming. For students with attention and learning disabilities, the fast change to remote instruction has impacted their ability to use learning strategies and has caused an inability to manage their learning and testing environments.

Concerns specific to vulnerable faculty populations. Contingent faculty have been expected to transition their classes to virtual formats under greater strain, since they may not have access to campus resources in the same way and may hold other job responsibilities elsewhere. Many contingent faculty are disproportionately female and BIPOC, as compared to tenured faculty who are more likely to be White and male. At the same time, whether the issue is increased family/child expectations, or barriers to research productivity, the impact of the pandemic could be extremely detrimental for female pretenured faculty.

Concerns that administrative decisions may be made for economic or budgetary reasons over pedagogical and health ones. This may result in increased class sizes, reduced personalized opportunities for learning, and ever-more focus on productivity, rankings, and outputs (as compared to the value placed on fostering psychological and physical health and well-being, and nurturing future generations of citizens who are both able and inclined to contribute meaningfully and productively to society).

I encourage SPSSI members to take a look at the full report, which does a great job of breaking down the many issues related to COVID-19 and higher education that were raised by APA divisions, state psychological associations, and several committees and affiliates that represent student diversity concerns. Thank you to APA Division 44 and APAGS for bringing this issue to the forefront, and especially to the four authors of the report—Drs. Joshua Wolff, Blanka Angyal, Eddy Ameen, and Theresa Stueland Kay—for gathering and synthesizing all of this data.

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