Higher Ed in the News: 4/27/2020

Photo by Max Böttinger on Unsplash.

This week on Higher Ed in the News, we profile two stories which give us insight into student issues during this uniquely challenging period. You can read previous editions of this series here and here.

Student Perspectives on Coronavirus Concerns

Efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 outbreak’s impact have begun in the U.S., with new laws and spending focused on businesses and families. However, as Cyrus Beschloss writes in a piece for College Reaction, college students have been underserved during this crisis and will be facing an uphill battle to “remedy massive financial, professional and social wounds” as a result.

Citing findings from a recent survey of 822 four-year college students, Beschloss illustrates the difficult position many of these students find themselves in as the pandemic continues to take its toll.

According to the survey results, 75% of respondents have dealt with job cancellations, relocations, or delays since the outbreak began. These decisions are causing financial hardships for the student employees and have the potential to stunt professional development. In terms of future career prospects, 90% of those surveyed are “concerned about the U.S. economy and job market,” with the looming threat of a recession-level economic event weighing heavily on their minds. 

The researchers also asked college students about the topic of distance learning, and 77% of respondents find this method to be “worse or much worse than in-person classes” and 13% would postpone their education if the 2020-2021 school year is projected to resemble their recent experience. The previously mentioned dilemmas contribute to issues with mental health among students, as 51% are dealing with “mental health distress” and 67% are worried about the “effect of social isolation.” These survey findings emphasize the importance of administrators, educators, and government officials devising effective solutions over the coming months.


How Colleges are Distributing Financial Assistance to Students

After initial government stimulus packages failed to address the growing needs of college students affected by the coronavirus outbreak, it appears help is on the way. The recently-implemented Cares Act has made $6 billion available and funds are beginning to be distributed to institutions of higher learning over the coming weeks. Those institutions’ next objective is to figure out how to fairly distribute the funds. As Francie Diep and Danielle McLean of The Chronicle explain, administrators have turned to financial formulas, student applications, or a combination of the two in order to devise a solution that best fits the needs of their student body during this difficult time. 

The “formula approach” uses information from financial-aid forms previously submitted by students to determine who will receive assistance and how much they’ll get. One university, for example, is giving all students $500 while adding an additional $300 for students expecting zero financial assistance from family. Their intent is “to give an extra boost to their neediest students, while recognizing that all students have been affected.” Institutions choosing this option are of the opinion that student stress levels and obstacles to financial stability are already heightened enough and that adding an application to the process would only create additional challenges. 

Other colleges see an “application option” as a more effective method. Their position is that financial aid reports are outdated, the information they contain is limited, and their findings don’t properly indicate which students are negatively impacted the most. And so these institutions are asking students to provide updated information on their current financial situation through online applications, then using this data to distribute financial assistance. Because this requirement will be an added inconvenience to students, these schools are focused on making the “process as streamlined and as easy as possible.” The success of this approach is heavily dependent on making sure all students are aware of the application, there is a risk of not providing aid to all students in need.

A final alternative is a hybrid model. At one school, 87.5% of the incoming government funding will be distributed using a formula, with the remaining funds set aside for those who fill out an application to qualify for extra assistance. Another university has implemented a system where students already on financial-aid can “opt-in” to receive relief, and those experiencing unforeseen financial struggles can apply for additional funds. Administrators at these colleges and universities are using this approach to ensure that the students who need help receive it.