UCLA Labor Center

Back to the “New Normal”: Workers and Learners Navigate Campus and Workplace Reopening


2021 / Labor Summer Research Program Team 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, it is imperative to investigate its long-term effects on workers and learners who juggle the demands of studying and working. A new report by our Labor Summer Research Program (LSRP) student researchers, Back to the “New Normal”: Workers and Learners Navigate Campus and Workplace Reopening, documents how workers and learners’ academic, employment, and life experiences inform their concerns and expectations for the return to campus and work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The research is based on 128 surveys and 29 interviews collected from students from Los Angeles public colleges and universities.

Among other findings, the study notes:

  • Nearly all students agreed that flexibility in deadlines (91%), office hours (96%), and attendance (75%) should remain as they return to campus. They also wanted to see the practice of recorded class lectures (95%) continue.
  • While schedule flexibility helped some students balance school and work, many were still forced to prioritize either school or work. Half of students surveyed said that COVID-19 reduced their ability to balance these two obligations.
  • Most students reported that their campus had a vaccine requirement (95%) and mask mandate (95%)—preventive measures that they were overall in favor of. In contrast, workers and learners reported that their workplaces have fewer safety requirements.
  • Workers and learners face barriers to financial stability and well-being. Students were extremely or somewhat concerned about paying for household expenses (84%) and food (53%). Of those supporting other people, 76% were worried about providing for a dependent this upcoming school year.

Returning to normal after a global pandemic will be a process filled with challenges, and report authors provide specific recommendations for improving conditions:

  • Ensure that campuses and workplaces are safe for workers and learners.
  • Continue to provide workers and learners with flexible academic practices.
  • Expand campus resources and practices beyond the pandemic.
  • Create stronger pipelines between jobs, academics, and careers.
  • Support efforts to make college affordable and create policies that allow students to work less. 

The Workers and Learners Project
Workers and Learners is a multiyear project to document the experiences of college students who are also employed. It is a collaboration between UCLA’s Labor Center, Labor Studies, and Institute for Research on Labor and Employment; the LACCD Dolores Huerta Labor Institute; and the CSULB American Studies Program.

This report builds off three previous studies: Unseen Costs: The Experiences of Workers and Learners in Los Angeles County, A Survey of Workers and Learners during COVID-19, and Workers and Learners during a Global Pandemic and Social Uprising.