COVID-19 Information Center

Member FAQ: Colleges & Universities


How have colleges and universities been impacted by the pandemic?

In the News:


Member Answers:

In the past few weeks (mid-March 2020), I have spoken to about forty-five campuses country-wide. Colleges and universities are getting information and making decisions on a minute-by-minute basis. Much of this is out of their control; their decisions may be countermanded at any time as the situation changes. We are all under a tremendous amount of stress. There are also very real financial implications to institutions as they think about this. There will be massive fallout. There might be a permanent shut-down of some schools. This is a broad-based shift in higher education.

  • Don’t worry about keeping up with what institution is closing when. It is inevitable that every school will close this spring. Many will shift to online education or just close entirely for spring semester. Educators are looking toward the possibility of reopening in the summer or fall.
  • Assume that every institution is undergoing a massive shift in how they offer instruction.
  • Assume there will be shifts in how they admit their incoming students. The response to the pandemic does affect 2 different groups of people: now is the time to begin thinking about how you will care for and manage the current students in your program and build a cohort and community with the next class.

For current students who are already enrolled and in programs:

  • Communicate clearly, quickly, and often: Information is power right now. Students will need reassurance and reinforcement that the scholarship community is still here for them. They need to know they can count on you. They are being exposed to much uncertainty in many areas of their lives.
  • Be flexible with all requirements: GPA requirements, community service hours, writing reflection papers, requesting thank you letters to donors, everything should be flexible and not add more stress.
  • International students in the US are required to attend face-to-face study classes for their student visa, and cannot do completely online coursework. The State Department has issued a reprieve of that because of the extreme circumstances, and international students will not violate their study visa just because of the shift to online instruction.
  • No state system that I know of has made any promise or claim regarding student refunds for tuition or room and board, and it will be state-by-state, or individual institution by individual institution, in terms of what students may or may not expect on that account.
  • With that in mind, focus on emergency support: How can you reach out to check on current scholars? Do they have safe housing? Were they able to relocate? Are they food insecure?
  • Remember that mental health is the biggest crisis we will face with current students: Institutional staff are most concerned about students’ mental, emotional, and psychological health as we all move forward. This is a completely unknown and new season for all of us, so connection to local and national support are important.

Consider your incoming class of students:

  • Be nimble: How can you throw out the rulebook that you operated with before? This is not the moment to merely attempt to recreate everything you already do in a virtual format. We have to get back to the basics of finding the right students, connecting with them, and getting the money out quickly. That will make the difference in whether students can attend school or not.
  • Admissions: Many institutions are already making decisions about shifting and extending the deadlines for offers of admission and financial aid packages and when students can accept them.
  • Colleges are facing huge financial losses: If they have to reimburse even partial room and board payments for the spring semester, it will cost tens of millions of dollars per institution. They will want to be flexible in terms of building a freshman class and getting students to come to school when they reopen.
  • More students will be asking for financial aid and scholarships because of the economic situation of the entire nation.
  • Many or all schools will be closed for the remainder of spring semester: Commencements have already begun to be cancelled. Summer programs and the fall semester are still up in the air as of the date of this webinar.

To summarize, universities do not have an answer to many of your questions yet. They are still navigating whether they will reopen and when & what will that look like. It is important to be as flexible and understanding as we can during this time, and to offer as much support as we can to our students and partners at colleges and universities who are experiencing increased stress and confusion as well.

Carrie Zimmerman, Uncommon Programs and Consulting

National Scholarship Providers Association

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