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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Social Class Differences in Students’ Experiences during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant hardships for students from low-income, poor, and working-class backgrounds enrolled at large, public research universities, according to the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Consortium survey of 30,697 undergraduate students conducted May through July 2020 at nine universities. In the survey, 7% of respondents (n = 2,112) identified as low-income or poor, 16% identified as working-class (n = 4,970), 42% identified as middle-class (n = 12,815), 32% identified as upper-middle or professional-middle class (n = 9,924), and 3% identified as wealthy (n = 876).  

The results of our study suggest that students from low-income/poor and working-class backgrounds were significantly more likely than their peers to experience financial hardships, including the loss or reduction of income from other family members, unexpected increases in living experiences and technology, the loss/cancellation of expected jobs or internships, and the loss of wages from off-campus employment.

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