Coronavirus and College: Funding and Support for Students
By Matt Konrad
When the COVID-19 public health emergency began escalating in the U.S., most college students were celebrating spring break – only to find their lives, and their campuses, turned upside down. In the weeks since, higher education has been going through the same rapid changes as the rest of American life, leaving millions of students with more questions than answers.
To help you navigate these unprecedented developments, here’s our guide to current legislation and resources designed to help.
The CARES Act: How Washington is Helping
The main piece of legislation providing relief to students is the sweeping, $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stimulus (CARES) Act. Signed into law this week, the CARES Act contains a number of student supports to help you get through these difficult times. The most important things to know are these:
- If you are currently employed under Federal Work Study (FWS), you will receive your paycheck as if you’ve completed your job through the end of the spring term. Payments can be made in one or multiple checks.
- Emergency aid grants are being made available to students who find themselves facing unexpected costs, including food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and child care. The CARES Act allows colleges to use Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) funds for these emergency aid grants, and also allocates an additional $7 billion in one-time funding. Note that these funds are distributed according to individual school policies, so you’ll need to reach out to your campus financial aid office for details on how to access them.
- If you need to drop out of school due to COVID-19, you will not have to return any of your federal aid (Pell Grants and/or student loans), and it will also not count toward your eligibility to receive such aid in the future.
- Federal student loan borrowers currently in school will not accrue interest on your unsubsidized loans, and your loan balance for the term will be forgiven if you have to drop out for COVID-19-related reasons.
- Student loan repayments are suspended through September 30, 2020 without penalty to borrowers with federal student loans. These months will count toward loan repayment and forgiveness programs.
- Participants in the National Service Corps, TEACH for America and other loan forgiveness programs will be considered to have completed a full year of service.
- Other provisions of the CARES Act, while not specifically education-related, may also help students and families. These include the upcoming stimulus payments, proposed increases in unemployment benefits and potential changes in your eligibility for Medicaid, SNAP and other benefits programs if your employment or financial situation has changed.
If you’d like to learn more, the National College Attainment Network has a detailed roundup of student-related provisions in the CARES Act, and Federal Student Aid has a thorough Q&A on student loan questions.
Other Sources of Aid for College Students
The federal response has been relatively swift and thorough when it comes to addressing student needs, but we know that’s not always enough – especially when it comes to changes in your housing, technology or class delivery. Fortunately, the private sector is also supporting student and family needs; look into these resources for help.
- College students forced to find alternative housing are eligible for 30 days of free storage at U-Haul facilities around the country.
- Students or families without at-home internet access may be eligible for two free months of Comcast’s Internet Essentials service. If you don’t qualify, check with your current internet, cell phone or TV provider – many providers are waiving fees or providing discounts as connectivity becomes more vital and coursework moves online.
- Banks and credit card providers are offering delays and forbearances on many kinds of payments. The Wirecutter has a roundup of offers from larger financial institutions.
- Many colleges and private businesses are expanding their networks of wifi hotspots into parking lots and other spaces, allowing students to access high-speed service without having to leave their cars.
- If the COVID-19 emergency has caused you or your family to lose work or wages, your financial aid office may let you file a “change of circumstances” form that allows you to apply for expanded assistance. Check with the office directly, as this changes campus-to-campus.
- Private scholarship providers, like those we work with at Scholarship America, are working to ensure funds are available when students need them, even as deadlines and financial aid office hours change. If you’re the recipient of a private scholarship, now is a good time to check with the administrator on deadlines, guidelines or any other status changes.
Resources for Future College Students
For high school juniors and seniors, coronavirus-related closures are disrupting an incredibly important time of year. Standardized testing, college selection, admissions and financial aid deadlines are all affected, and it can be confusing to know where to turn. Here’s what to know now.
- The usual May 1 deadline for accepting a college’s admission and financial aid offer is being pushed back to June 1 by hundreds of colleges and universities. The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) has a frequently updated database of changes – check there to see what your prospective schools’ deadlines are.
- With most campuses closed or severely restricted, picking a college is suddenly a much more virtual process. This Forbes guide goes into detail on what prospective students and families should be looking for as you make those decisions. (Get Schooled also has some ideas and tools to help you pick.)
- The SAT’s March and May testing dates and the ACT’s April testing dates have been cancelled. The next scheduled SAT date is June 6 and the next scheduled ACT is June 13; these are subject to change, so make sure you stay connected if you’re planning on taking either.
- Advanced Placement (AP) tests will only be conducted online, with two date options for each test. The schedule will be announced April 3, so bookmark this page to be notified.
- High school closures may make it more difficult to access official transcripts or ask for scholarship recommendation letters. Make sure you build in extra time, and get in touch with admissions, financial aid and scholarship offices to find out about alternatives (unofficial transcripts, recommendations from outside school, etc.)
The world of higher education, like the rest of American society, is currently in a state of uncertainty – but we do know that it’s more important than ever to focus on your educational goals. With support from government, community and the private sector, you’ll get through this, and be on the path to do great things as life gets back to normal.