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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

COVID-19 pandemic delays PaCE students first in-person semester


After two years of online classes, Elisa D’Ambrosio felt so close to stepping into the classroom. But the pandemic is making her wait longer. 

D’Ambrosio is a PaCE, or “Pathway to Campus Enrollment” student at UF. Students in the program start their degree online and transition on campus once they have completed a minimum of 15 credits and 60 hours total. Now, with almost three-fourths of UF classes online for the Fall, students ready to transition are still waiting to take in-person classes.

As a UF PaCE student, D’Ambrosio, a 20-year-old health education and behavior junior, decided to postpone her transition on campus in summer. She assumed most courses were going to be taught online this Fall so that there was no need to risk contracting COVID-19.

She completed her first year of college at home in Miami and moved to Gainesville in August last year. When the pandemic hit, D’Ambrosio was upset about having to go back home. Now, she is back in Gainesville — taking online classes and hoping it will be safer to transition on campus next semester.

D’Ambrosio’s future on-campus experience is expected to include research, internships and a volunteer-based program that allows UF students to teach children at elementary schools about different practices they can do to live a healthier life.

For students who had already transitioned to campus, faculty have put efforts into making courses online that were not previously taught that way, said Evangeline Cummings, UF Online director.

“There should be no delays in anyone's graduation. There should be complete availability of courses,” Cummings added.

Before transitioning on campus, PaCE students pay UF Online tuition and fees, which are about 40% less than the in-person course fees. Per credit hour, in-state students pay $112 and out-of-state and international students pay $500.

UF Online lower tuition and fees are possible because the state of Florida gives UF about $5 million a year to subsidize the price, Cummings said.

UF Online offers about 50 PaCE majors and 25 majors fully online. About 700 new PaCE students were welcomed in the Fall, Cummings said.

Cummings said that the lower tuition and fees could be a reason for students’ delaying their transition to campus.

John Upchurch, a 21-year-old UF environmental management in agriculture and natural resources senior, was excited to transition on campus in Fall 2019. However, his experience only lasted a semester and a half.

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Originally from Ormond Beach, Florida, Upchurch has lived in Gainesville since his freshman year as a PaCE student. He accepted his UF PaCE offer over FSU’s offer to attend in person.

Now that Upchurch is back online, he wishes he was paying less for his courses, he said. Though his college expenses are paid by Florida Bright Futures and Florida Prepaid, he would be getting more money back if the tuition was lower, he added. 

“I don't think that the online is very equivalent to the in-person classes,” Upchurch said. “If I had to pay for it personally, I would be taking semesters off until it was in person again.”

Florida Bright Futures offers full academic scholarships funded by the state of Florida. Florida Prepaid is a state-guaranteed program that allows families to save money for their children’s college education.

Upchurch enjoyed his time as a PaCE student because he was in charge of his own schedule and was still able to join several clubs on campus, such as a gardening club and the UF ethnoecology society, he said.

But as a PaCE student, he didn’t get as much of a chance to meet in person as many people as he did once he began taking in-person classes last Fall.

“I was gaining those connections that you just didn't get online,” Upchurch said. “I was talking to my professors, I was meeting friends, and it's just two completely different experiences.”

If Upchurch had to face transitioning this Fall, he said he wouldn’t have done it because he would be paying more tuition and still receiving the same kind of online education.

Upchurch is disappointed because although he transitioned from PaCE, he is still taking online courses, he said. As a PaCE student, he said he learned things that were engaging, whereas now, it is noticeable when courses were not meant to be taught online.

“It is so frustrating,” Upchurch said. “Like, ‘What is this professor doing? What is going on?’”

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