By: Nick Santangelo

You’ve heard it all a million times by now: these times are unprecedented, unusual, challenging, difficult, etc. You know COVID-19 has made 2020 a year unlike any other any of us can recall. But this week, the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), along with the rest of Temple University, is reopening for our fall semester.

We’ll be wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing/sanitizing our hands regularly, learning online and getting tested for COVID-19. We know these are best practices thanks to health experts at organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And when the CDC Foundation began assembling its higher-ed recommendations for an economic recovery, it tapped CLA Sociology Professor and Founding Director of the Hope Center Sara Goldrick-Rab to help with its recovery blueprints.

In her recommendations, Professor Goldrick-Rab looked at the big picture. She called for major legislation that she argues would bring necessary economic, health and social benefits to students and alumni. Among those measures are student loan debt relief, a modified CARES Act (including emergency aid for students and institutions), Medicare for All, the College Affordability Act and a “Marshall Plan for higher ed.” The Marshall Plan would, among other measures, make college tuition-free and deprioritize standardized testing and grading in admissions requirements. 

If you want to solve a problem, you better understand it from all of its angles

It sounds like an ambitious agenda, but Professor Goldrick-Rab says it is entirely possible if November’s election sends its proponents to Washington.

“If you're concerned about students' ability to complete college in this country, if you're concerned about students’ resources during this pandemic, then those should become issues that you consider as you think about who to vote for,” she argues. “You should be looking at detailed higher-education plans and proposals from the candidates. And there are folks running for office who have plans to do the things that I laid out.”

Whether you study Political Science, Sociology or any of CLA’s myriad other majors and minors, you’ll leave Temple as a more civic-minded citizen upon your graduation. And, as Professor Goldrick-Rab points out, that means prioritizing voting.

With COVID-19 plunging the economy into a recession, Professor Goldrick-Rab believes it’s now especially important for students to vote for candidates who support stronger affordable housing and food programs, investments in public education at all levels, and increased financial aid.

“Temple's been affected by state budget cuts and federal budget cuts,” she says. “Temple has also been impacted as more and more of its students come from families with less and less wealth, which is a good thing. We are awesome for doing things like having a test-optional policy. We're awesome for trying to give students more financial aid and open the doors.

“At the same time, these changes create budgetary challenges. We need to invest more in supporting staff and faculty to help students succeed, but there is less money with which to do that. We have students who should be getting support from programs like SNAP (food stamps) and public housing, but they are being cut off from that support.”

If the professor’s COVID-19 recovery perspective sounds a bit different than what you might have expected, she says it’s because sociologists think about how to solve problems by engaging the entire range of social institutions. That means considering education, family, health, economy, the environment and more.

“If you want to solve a problem, you better understand it from all of its angles and at all levels. The sociological lens helps us do that. I'm teaching Sociology of Education this fall. One of the things my class is going to do is consider the impacts of the pandemic on K-12 and college education from a sociological vantage point. That's going to allow us to put what's happening to both kids and college students in a much bigger context.

“It isn't just about what happens in the classroom. It's about what happens to their families. It’s about who loses their job or who gets evicted. It's the whole picture, and that helps us understand why a student falls asleep in class or a student doesn't finish the semester. It also helps us identify new and better ways to help all students succeed.”

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