COVID-19 did more than stop the world a year ago, it also threw the economy into a freefall. Suddenly, many found themselves unemployed, without means to pay for life’s necessities, much less continue paying for higher education. Additionally, institutions struggled with the sudden drop of student enrollment, resulting in layoffs, furloughs, and even some schools closing their doors permanently. As the world opens again, schools and students are beginning to refocus on continuing education, and looking forward to returning to school in person. With that being said, many still have concerns about how to pay their tuition. Here are some solutions to explore to help students get back on track, and ensure they continue their studies without delay.
What can universities do to help students?
One of the best ways universities can support students is by developing clear and consistent guidelines and policies regarding what they will refund, when the cut offs happen, and what students can do to recover financially as needed. Unfortunately, with the financial ramifications of the pandemic still sending shockwaves through universities, it’s no surprise everyone is looking for ways to save money.
However, across the globe many universities are hearing students’ requests for adjustments in their fees and are accommodating them. Over 85 universities made changes in their tuition and student fees for the 2021 academic year. Institutions such as American University, George Washington University, and Williams College cut tuition by 10-15% for all undergraduate students in the spring 2021 semester. Other schools, such as National University in California opted to provide target discounts to specific students. In addition to these adjustments, many universities are saving money by shifting much of their coursework online. Students are still earning an education, but universities don’t have to assume as much cost for running and maintaining a campus students aren’t currently utilizing.
In addition to preparing for students to return to campuses in the fall of 2021, universities can start putting more services into place to help students navigate managing their financial concerns, or other worries about returning to campus. Providing information with clear, easy-to-follow resources, or designating staff to answer questions may help alleviate worries and help students make sure they’re financially prepared to return to university in the fall. This is also especially true for international students, who will need to navigate their finances, as well as travel back to their universities.
Educate yourself with information & resources to help support students
While the past year proved daunting, there are actually many potential funding options available to help students, according to nerdwallet.com. Stay abreast of current updates and make sure to share publicly available resources and fact sheets with your students, who may not be aware of what is available to them. By simply raising awareness of potential options, you can help shine a light and make a huge impact on the lives of your students seeking assistance.
Potential ways students can currently seek pandemic relief:
In the US, independent students may potentially qualify for a stimulus check and potential waivers for Pell and loan grants may apply.
If your school was forced to close its housing and went fully remote, or does before the end of the academic year, students may be entitled to reimbursement on the costs of housing or meal plans.
Students may also qualify for an emergency one-time grant known as the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), especially if they are “students who took on new expenses due to the shift to online or remote learning during the coronavirus crisis.” Grants and scholarships don’t require repayment, so both are viable options to pursue.
Scholarshipamerica.org offers a comprehensive list of available scholarships for students, as well as other ways to cope with the effects COVID-19 has had on a student’s ability to pursue their education.
Don't forget about emergency relief for your own institution
According to the National Conference of Legislators, “The outbreak of the coronavirus has become a major disruption to colleges and universities across the country, with most institutions canceling in-person classes and moving to online-only instruction. The pandemic also threatens to significantly alter nearly every aspect of college life, from admissions and enrollment to collegiate athletics.”
There’s no question this has created difficulties for students and universities alike across the globe. Fortunately, many lawmakers have heard the plea from schools in the United States, and are addressing the problem head-on by creating laws and policies to help schools stay afloat, and help students continue accessing education. According to NCSL, “In late March 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided... $14.25 billion for emergency relief for institutions of higher education to respond to the Coronavirus.” These funds were laid out to help universities keep their doors open, and continue to provide services to their students.
This year has proved to be difficult, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Universities are planning to reopen in the fall, and many have invested significantly in safety protocols to minimize the risk of outbreaks on campus. Therefore, it stands to reason that they have heard the students’ desires to return to in-person instruction, and plan to do so. As a result, students can expect to receive the robust, university experience that they may have missed over the past 12 months.