Elissa Nadworny

Elissa Nadworny covers higher education and college access for NPR. She's led the NPR Ed team's multiplatform storytelling – incorporating radio, print, comics, photojournalism, and video into the coverage of education. In 2017, that work won an Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation. As an education reporter for NPR, she's covered many education topics, including new education research, chronic absenteeism, and some fun deep-dives into the most popular high school plays and musicals and the history behind a classroom skeleton.

After the 2016 election, she traveled with Melissa Block across the U.S. for series "Our Land." They reported from communities large and small, capturing how people's identities are shaped by where they live.

Prior to coming to NPR, Nadworny worked at Bloomberg News, reporting from the White House. A recipient of the McCormick National Security Journalism Scholarship, she spent four months reporting on U.S. international food aid for USA Today, traveling to Jordan to talk with Syrian refugees about food programs there. In addition to USA Today, she's written stories for Dow Jones' MarketWatch, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald and McClatchy DC.

A native of Erie, Pennsylvania, Nadworny has a bachelor's degree in documentary film from Skidmore College and a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

In Jasmine Williams' family, graduating from the University of Michigan is a rite of passage. Her parents met on the campus, and her older sister graduated from the school a few years ago. She remembers sitting bundled up in the family section for that graduation. "It was overwhelming to feel so many people that proud," she says, "I remember sitting there watching her, and that was probably the first time I was like, 'OK, yeah, I like this. I can't wait to do this.'

Duke University in North Carolina has announced that it will require students to have a COVID-19 vaccine when they return this fall. And the list of campuses with such policies is growing.

Almost exactly one year ago, the pandemic caused a cascade of school and university closures, sending 9 out of 10 students home as the coronavirus raced through the United States and the rest of the world.

By Labor Day, 62% of U.S. students were still learning virtually, according to the organization Burbio. That number dropped significantly during the fall and rose in the winter as COVID-19 surged. And today, just under 1 in 4 public school students attends a district that still hasn't held a single day of in-person learning.

At a CNN town hall on Tuesday night, President Biden was asked if he supported the idea of forgiving up to $50,000 of student loan debt for individuals.

His answer: No. He supports cancelling $10,000 in debt, he explained. But he said he is wary of erasing big chunks of loans for people who went to Ivy League schools: "The idea that ... I'm going to forgive the debt, the billions of dollars in debt, for people who have gone to Harvard and Yale and Penn ..."

Last week, Ayiana Davis Polen finally set foot on the campus of Spelman College — a historically Black liberal arts school for women in Atlanta. She's a freshman there but had started her college experience last fall taking classes from her bedroom in Puerto Rico.

Back then, she wasn't sure if it felt like college — but then again, she had nothing to compare it with.

Last spring, the pandemic stole Maddie Harvey's job on campus in the Dean of Students office. She was finishing up her senior year at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and without the income from her job, she wasn't going to have enough money to pay her upcoming tuition bill.

"It was definitely a very vulnerable situation that I was in," says Harvey, "it's not easy to talk about when you're struggling, especially knowing that so many people were struggling at one time."

All throughout high school, Brian Williams planned to go to college. But as the pandemic eroded the final moments of his senior year, the Stafford, Texas, student began to second-guess that plan.

"I'm terrible at online school," Williams says. He was barely interested in logging on for his final weeks of high school; being online for his first semester at Houston Community College felt unbearable.

"I know what works best for me, and doing stuff on the computer doesn't really stimulate me in the same way an actual class would."

Lately, Echo Fridley has had a raspy voice and a sore throat. Not from illness but from many hours on the phone talking with other students about quarantine and isolation, as a contact tracer at Syracuse University.

"I'm definitely super-overwhelmed," says Fridley, a junior studying public health and biology. "We've seen such an explosion of cases."

Sandy Kretschmer imagines her son Henry returning home from college, dropping his bags and then giving her a big hug. But she knows the reality of this homecoming may be a lot different.

"I'll probably have a mask on, and he'll have a mask on when I hug him," she says.

Henry plans to take a COVID-19 test a few days before he leaves Iowa State University where he's a junior, and he'll self-quarantine until he heads home to Chicago.

Of the colleges and universities that have chosen to hold classes in person this fall, most are not conducting widespread testing of their students for the coronavirus, an NPR analysis has found. With only weeks remaining before many of those schools plan to send students home for the end of the semester, the findings raise concerns that communities around the U.S. could be exposed to new outbreaks.

When Irem Ozturk got the email from Dickinson College in mid-June announcing "we intend to bring all students back to campus," she was elated. She's originally from Turkey, but after two years on campus, she's come to think of Carlisle, Pa., as home. "I was thrilled because I felt like I was returning back home, excited to see friends and faculty," she says. "I felt happy. I felt like I had something to look forward to."

That happiness lasted a little more than a month.

The club was supposed to meet once a week. But for many of the members of Men in Color, Wednesday afternoons turned into Monday afternoons and Thursdays too.

"After school, we were always in Mr. C's room," says Jaheim Birch-Gentles, a recent graduate of the High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn. He's referring to one of the club's advisors, Mischaël Cetoute. The club served as a safe space for students to talk through issues and ideas.

The coronavirus test wasn't as bad as Celeste Torres imagined. Standing outside a dorm at the University of California, San Diego, Torres stuck a swab up a nostril, scanned a QR code, and went on with the day.

"The process itself was about five minutes," Torres says, "I did cry a little bit just because it's, I guess, a natural reaction."

College dorms are closed. Athletic events are canceled. Classes have moved online. Like so many sectors of the U.S. economy, higher education is taking a hit from the coronavirus pandemic. In March, Congress set aside more than $14 billion to help colleges and universities weather the outbreak.

Starting Monday, Advanced Placement exams, which test high schoolers' knowledge of college material, will take an unusual form. The high-anxiety, college credit tests normally last three hours and are taken in person. But this year, in response to disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak, the College Board, which administers AP exams, shortened the tests to 45 minutes and moved them online.

What will happen on college campuses in the fall? It's a big question for families, students and the schools themselves.

A lot of what happens depends on factors outside the control of individual schools: Will there be more testing? Contact tracing? Enough physical space for distancing? Will the coronavirus have a second wave? Will any given state allow campuses to reopen?

For all of these questions, it's really too early to know the answers. But one thing is clear: Life, and learning for the nation's 20 million students in higher education, will be different.

It was a pretty normal St. Patrick's Day. Nathan Stewart and a couple of friends were hanging out, drinking a few beers, soaking up senior spring at the University of Virginia. Then an email landed in their inboxes: Classes were moving online and graduation was indefinitely postponed.

When Lesley Del Rio goes to the library to do her college math homework, she often has a study buddy: her precocious 8-year-old son, Leo.

Del Rio is working on her associate degree; Leo is working on third grade.

And Del Rio is not alone: More than 1 in 5 college students in the U.S. are raising kids. That's more than 4 million undergraduates, and they are disproportionately women and people of color. Of those students, more than half will leave school without getting a degree.

For many college students settling into their dorms this month, the path to campus — and paying for college — started long ago. And it likely involved their families.

The pressure to send kids to college, coupled with the realities of tuition, has fundamentally changed the experience of being middle class in America, says Caitlin Zaloom, an anthropologist and associate professor at New York University. It's changed the way that middle class parents raise their children, she adds, and shaped family dynamics along the way.