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Colleges’ Pre-Pandemic Problems Now Magnified



The year 2020 has been like no other for most of us. The effect of this year’s challenges on higher education has been disturbing, to say the least. Top administrators have struggled to keep their institutions viable in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the news has been filled with the names of some of the most recognizable schools — the Ivies and many Top-20s — other less well-known but worthy dot-edus have had their share of struggles as well. Yesterday, I came across an article about the issues some of these schools are facing: 7 college presidents share their biggest challenges for 2020 is dated February 6, 2020, on the eve of the COVID-19 impact. By mid-March, colleges and universities sent their students home and converted to online instruction for the remainder of spring semester.

Reading about these presidents’ concerns, which were aired before they encountered their pandemic hurdles, shows how complex the role of a higher education president is. I think it’s important to read about their pre-pandemic issues to understand the difficulties of steering a college through normal times. Imagine what it must be like now, mid-pandemic, as they try to guide their institutions into the fall semester.

College students and their parents rarely encounter college presidents, let alone get a glimpse of their circumstances and what they think about them. This article opens their office doors in a way and helps us understand some of the dynamics of higher education leadership. You may be surprised at what they’re dealing with. Some problems are not all that apparent.

EducationDive’s staff conducted these interviews and prefaced their summaries with this statement: “We checked in with the execs who contributed columns for last year’s President Speaks series to ask what hurdles they expect on their campuses this year.” If they could only have known what the big hurdle was going to be this year! Here are some highlights from five of those EducationDive interviews, followed by my comments.

Mary Marcy, Dominican University of California

One of the biggest challenges I expect to face at Dominican, and indeed expect most of higher education will be facing, is the challenge of unpredictability — in the national political climate, in the changes to enrollment practices, in the pressures on free speech and contested speech, and in the challenges to our business model. In the midst of this unpredictability, it will be essential for us to continue to implement those practices that we know are most effective for student and institutional success. It will also be important for us to continue to innovate in response to the volatile environment

The major irony of president Marcy’s statement comes in the form of one twice-mentioned word: unpredictability. The unpredictability of the elements she mentions is completely dwarfed by the unpredictability of COVID-19, which was poised to emerge shortly after she cited the above challenges.

Freeman Hrabowski III, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)

At a time when U.S. public life is marked by conflict and disagreement, we in higher education face the challenge of helping all of our students feel both welcome and respected within our communities. Our approach at UMBC emerges from our commitment to free expression, an inclusive practice enshrined in the Constitution that is also among our campus’s core values. We recognize that the expression of opposing views can at times feel uncomfortable, or even jarring. This highlights the importance of efforts to help students navigate complexity, listen discerningly and empathically, embrace each other’s humanity, and use their voices responsibly and effectively

President Hrabowski mentions “conflict and disagreement” and “free expression of opposing views,” and urges students to “use their voices.” Even though he couches these aspects as part of public life, he correctly includes them as part of the mosaic of college life, especially at UMBC. Once again, the future contained two additional events for president Hrabowski: COVID-19 and the mass protests following the May 25 death of George Floyd. Baltimore is an epicenter of protests, and how that will affect UMBC’s plans for fall remains to be seen.

Shirley Collado, Ithaca College

The challenges we face are not unlike those confronting many of our peers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions: declining enrollment numbers, being responsive to the concerns families and students have around tuition and affordability, and creating and maintaining a campus environment that is deeply student-centered

2020 will call upon all of us in the Ithaca College family to continue our progress as we complete our year-one initiatives, and launch a fresh slate of year-two objectives that will feed our momentum and sustain our necessary transformation. I look forward to continuing this work alongside a talented, focused and fearless Ithaca College community.

In my last article, Rough Seas Ahead for Higher Education, I wrote about enrollment and cost issues. The news about these two areas is not good due to the number of gap year requests and lawsuits claiming that online classes should not cost the same as in-person instruction. President Collado is concerned about revenue and even before the pandemic, schools such as Ithaca College were struggling. I’m glad to see that news sources such as EducationDive are giving voice to these institutions’ difficulties.

Lori Varlotta, Hiram College

A pressing 2020 goal — one that is both an opportunity and a challenge — is related to adult studies. Hiram is interested in paving a pathway to adult learners who need to reskill and upskill. Moving in this direction, we aim to design and deliver non-degree credentials such as badges or certificates. These credentials should be of immediate professional value to those mid-career employees who are looking to advance in their current career or start a new career entirely. Ideally, the badges and certificates will also include a future value proposition

This is one of the few examples of a college that is preparing to meet a challenge that will be aided by present-day circumstances. The pandemic lockdowns this past spring caused massive layoffs across the country. President Varlotta talks about the goal of meeting the needs of adults “who need to reskill and upskill.” There are currently thousands of those available. One problem that Hiram College will need to tackle is getting the word out in order to reach those in need of retooling their careers.

Carolyn Stefanco, The College of St. Rose

Despite our many achievements, we continue to feel the effects of the changing landscape of higher education. While the dramatic enrollment decline we experienced after the recession has slowed and we made painful cuts five years ago, we are in a similar situation to that of many independent colleges and universities. Specific issues with which we grapple include “free” public tuition in New York state, the continuing demographic decline in the Northeast, new challenges in recruiting internationally and the increasing financial need of students. In our centennial year, we are focusing on finding new ways to address these market pressures so that we can best position our institution for long-term success.

President Stefanco’s survey of problems is similar to many other small schools but sounds more urgent and somewhat foreboding. She reflects these comments:

Scott Carlson, senior writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education, predicts more closures in the future. Small colleges are under pressure from higher operating costs and increasing competition from bigger institutions with more resources, he says.

“It’s leaving these small colleges in a tough position, trying to attract a dwindling number of students in a high-cost environment,” he says. “And that spells disaster, I think, for the fall, particularly if these students can’t come back to campus because of COVID-19.”

Colleges’ pre-pandemic problems have been magnified tenfold by COVID-19. The whitecaps that faced colleges at the start of 2020 have become rough seas, indeed. The nautical-metaphor hope in coming years for some of these schools will be to stay afloat, however they can.


By: Dave Berry
Title: Colleges’ Pre-Pandemic Problems Now Magnified
Sourced From:
Published Date: Thu, 16 Jul 2020 18:04:50 +0000

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Apply Online For Student Loans



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Webinar Recap: How COVID-19 is Affecting Financial Aid



Many families are facing new financial challenges in light of the coronavirus emergency, and College Confidential has fielded dozens of questions on this topic recently. To address those queries, we hosted a webinar on April 9 entitled “Paying for College Amid Changes Due to the Impact of COVID-19.”

During the event, moderated by Aaron Murphy, manager of learning and development with Inside Track, the following panelists offered their perspectives on the issue:

  • Denise Trusty, director of financial aid with Morehead State University
  • Laura Reisert Kalinkewicz, associate vice president of college partnerships with RaiseMe
  • Amy Nelson, director of sales at International Scholarship and Tuition Services
  • Charlie Javice, founder and CEO of Frank.

Check out the following topics that the panelists discussed, along with their views of how things may unfold amid the financial challenges brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.

Family Finances Changed? Contact Your Schools

If you plan to start college in the fall as a freshman — or return to school as an existing student — and your financial situation has changed since you applied for financial aid, you should contact the colleges on your list immediately. Financial aid departments can consider appeals for more money, but must base these decisions on each individual student’s situation, Trusty said.

“I know with Morehead State, where I work, we will be doing professional judgement calls on all students who say they’ve been affected,” she noted. “We will reach out to those students to see what we can do to help them maybe obtain additional funding, additional grants, scholarships, whatever they would be eligible for. We do professional judgment all the time for our students, because things happen all the time. This year will be an especially large amount of those, I’m sure, but those are up to individual schools to make that call for their students.”

In addition, she added, the Department of Education has set aside over $6 billion for additional grants and scholarships that the universities will be able to use. “Currently, I don’t know how that’s all going to play into this,” Trusty said. “So that will be up to each individual university on how they lay those out. I know it will be beneficial, I just don’t know how available that will be to each student.”

Keep in mind that schools are accustomed to reviewing financial aid appeals, and they all have processes in place for to do so. “It is really, really important to know that schools typically leave a budget from 10 percent to 20 percent or so of their financial aid dollars for what would be called a professional judgment bucket,”Javice said. “Therefore, there is additional money to be had, and it’s up to you to request it. You should approach your school as soon as you know you might need more money, and be prepared to show supporting documentation demonstrating how your finances are different from when you filed your FAFSA initially. This might require proof of a job loss, medical bills, a cut in pay or another such issue, Javice said.

In addition, if another school gave you a better financial offer, you can petition the school that gave you the lower offer for more money, Javice noted. “This typically works better for private institutions versus public state schools, given the fact that they have a little bit more discrepancy and more dollars to put to work in terms of a tuition discount,” she added. “This is solely up to the school on a case by case basis.” In some cases, the money is distributed on a first come, first serve timeline, so don’t wait if you know you need more aid.

Although financial aid can be a stressful topic, try not to be emotional when you request more money, Javice added. You’ll get a lot further by having organized documentation to present than you would by getting angry or upset, she noted.

Consider Outside Scholarships

The coronavirus situation has changed plans not only for incoming freshmen, but also for current college students, Nelson said. “Organizations are stepping up and trying to find ways to provide additional scholarship opportunities this year,” she noted. Students should be proactive in seeking those options.

Raise Me is offering new micro-scholarships for students who are seeking additional funding sources, Kalinkewicz said. In addition, she encourages students to ask colleges for more time to make decisions, even if the school hasn’t extended its deposit process. You can always try and request additional time to get your financial aid package right, she noted.

Finding more money is not relegated to younger students, Javice added. “Adult learners comprise the biggest group of people actually going to college today,” she noted. It’s very common for people to be seeking new types of skills and going back to college to gain additional degrees. Financial aid is available to adult learners, and they may even get aid to pay such costs as rent, she added. In addition, they can seek outside scholarships or employer-matching funds to pay for their educations.

Not Necessarily Too Late to File FAFSA

Students who didn’t file a FAFSA already should do that as soon as possible so you can get access to financial aid funds, Javice said. Federal FAFSA deadlines are usually in June, but states make their own deadlines for state aid. Some states, such as New Jersey, have moved their deadlines back for this year, so check to make sure you stay on top of your deadlines.

And if you file for financial aid and you decide you don’t want it, you can always decline the financial offer or portions of that offer, Nelson said. Your best bet is to apply so you can take what you need and decline any amounts you don’t need. Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should apply anyway because you could be surprised at what you’re offered. “You really need to complete that [FAFSA] process every year,” Nelson said. “The process is very easy, and jobs can come and go. It’s your safety net and you want to make sure you’ve completed it. It makes it a whole lot easier when situations like this arise.”

Some colleges also have supplemental applications to fill out for particular types of aid, so always reach out to your financial aid office for information on which documentation you should be completing, Kalinkewicz said.

Could Families — Not Schools — Be in the Driver’s Seat?

Because many merit scholarships are based on test scores and GPAs, some high school juniors are concerned that they won’t have access to those in the coming year. With test dates being canceled and grades moving to pass/fail, they fear they won’t meet the criteria to earn such scholarships.

“It’s clear to me that colleges and universities know the extraordinary circumstances we’re under,” Nelson said. “All schools are leaning forward and considering all options as the situation develops. I would continue to encourage juniors to stay engaged and stay informed.” You should also watch to see what happens with test dates, she said. The ACT and SAT dates could change, and some schools may forego the need for a test score altogether, she added.

In addition, some merit scholarships that have traditionally been based on test scores may become test optional, Kalinkewicz noted.

Keep in mind that in many cases, families are in the driver’s seat rather than having the colleges be in charge, Javice said. Some schools have lost revenue and are very eager for students right now, “so if you are scared because you thought you could never get into a specific school from an admission criteria standpoint, this is your year to stretch, this is your year to think about the schools that are your reach category and go for it, because schools need the money and need the students. So the power that used to be in an admissions office is in you, the student or the family’s hands,” she said.

She also advises juniors to request application waivers from schools to save the $50 to $100 or so per application that they would normally pay. The schools may say no, but it won’t hurt to ask, she advised. “Persistence is key when dealing with schools,” Javice noted.

Federal Student Loans Payment Suspended

As many families are aware, payments on federal student loans are automatically suspended from March 13 through September 30, 2020 thanks to the government’s CARES Act. This is essential to keep in mind, particularly for families that have multiple children in various stages of the college process.

“You will stop paying your loans and you will have zero interest from now until September 30, and that’s important for parents to know,” Nelson said regarding existing federal student loans. “If you had an auto draft, the auto draft has been shut off and will not continue. You can, however, continue to make those payments if you’d like, and any interest you had before March 13, once that interest is paid up, all your payments will go directly toward your principal.” She advises families with federally-backed loans to check with their loan servicing agents, because they have a lot of information for both parent and student borrowers on how the CARES Act will impact payments for the next six months.

Student Job Gone? Colleges Might Help

For students who expect to earn money via part-time or full-time work to pay for college, but can’t do so due to the coronavirus, colleges may have resources to help. “There are many colleges and universities that have put together emergency grants for students to cover expenses that they were maybe not expecting because of COVID-19,” Nelson said. “They are making accommodations to try and make up for that lost income for students.”

Trusty said Morehead State is continuing to pay students who were on federal work-study. “If they had a job, we are still paying them right now as if they were working, although they are not. In the summer, those funds will be flipped over to emergency grant funds. So we will make sure that our students are covered and can live as if they were employed with the work-study position.”

Some colleges have even made remote work available to students, Kalinkewicz added. Therefore, contact your financial aid office to determine if any accommodations are available to make up for lost student income whenever possible.

Consider Other Options to Save

If you are seeking ways to save money on college, you should also consider other resources, whether that means less expensive colleges, in-state options or potentially transferring down the road, Janice said. You can also save money by taking classes at a community college to pay a lower cost for your credits that can be transferred to a four-year college later.

“If you have that target institution in mind — maybe you’ve already been admitted there but your family has determined a year of community college will really help stretch things further — work on articulation agreements or a plan so you are taking the right classes that actually have the ability to transfer toward the degree you want at your target institution, not necessarily just as credit,” Kalinkewicz said.

In addition, many colleges offer merit aid for transfer students, she added. So always look for every potential financial aid and scholarship resource to best maximize your package and allow your dollars to stretch as far as possible.

Resource: To review the entire hour-long webinar, you can watch the replay here.

Share Your Thoughts

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!

By: Torrey Kim
Title: Webinar Recap: How COVID-19 is Affecting Financial Aid
Sourced From:
Published Date: Fri, 10 Apr 2020 15:22:20 +0000

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