This fall I received desperate messages from many of my students at Temple University, Philadelphia’s public university. They wanted to know where they could find help catching up on bills, and described having to choose between rent, groceries, and gas. Five of my undergraduates lost a family member to COVID-19.
A college education is more essential than ever to economic stability. But across the nation, college students are struggling to cover basic needs and are unsure if they can afford tuition for the spring semester. Many people assume that students can rely on their parents or apply for financial aid to keep them enrolled. But not all students are privileged enough to have a family safety net, and applying for financial aid can be a slow and convoluted process, rife with administrative burden.
This spring, Congress designated more than $6 billion in emergency aid for higher-education institutions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Colleges and universities did their best to get those dollars to students quickly. But Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued complex and exclusionary restrictions on the funds. College leaders had to waste time and money in court, challenging the Department of Education and paying lawyers to sort out the secretary’s ever-changing guidance. That administrative burden was especially challenging for public colleges, and particularly community colleges, which were already allocated insufficient funds. Incredibly, a disproportionate amount of CARES funding flowed to small private colleges compared with public institutions, where most of the student need was concentrated.