LOS ANGELES — College has been a dream come true for Ezequiel Baiza, a first-generation college student who is hoping his higher education will lead to more opportunities.
"School is something that I completely focused on," said Baiza. "I knew I was going to get to college somehow. I just didn’t know which college was going to be the one for me."
Throughout his high school years, Baiza was determined to one day create a better life for himself and his family by obtaining his higher education. As a current sophomore on a scholarship at Columbia University, he never thought he would need to put his education on hold. However, the university’s campus closure almost made that a reality.
“I thought I was just going to be in school [for] the straight four years, try and find something in the summer, and then go back to school, that thing. But taking a whole year off? I was just scared. I didn’t know what I could do or what I couldn’t do,” Baiza said.
At the time, Baiza went back home where he continued his education online and found overnight work to help his family pay the bills. Many low-income students like Baiza experienced similar circumstances and the unknowns forced some students to put their education on the backburner.
According to the National Clearinghouse Student Research Center, community colleges reported a nearly 20% decline in enrollment, and four-year public universities also saw about a 10% drop during the pandemic.
Erica Rosales is the executive director of College Match, an organization that helps nearly 600 low-income high school students in the Los Angeles area obtain their higher education goals every year. She explained how the pressures brought on by the pandemic have not deterred their students.
"Our students have never been defined by their circumstances," said Rosales. "These are students who are always looking for opportunities, but they understand the value of family and they want to make sure that they are helping their family where it can be and they understand by dreaming big, they are going to be able to help their family."
That’s why Baiza remains focused on his future.
“The fear of family of getting COVID, friends getting COVID, being stuck in a room most of the time, it’s a lot. But I do think that I will be stronger for it,” Baiza said.
Until then, Baiza will continue making the most of his college experience, even if it means taking classes from his dorm room.