According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 928,619 cases of the coronavirus in the U.S, with 52,459 deaths at the time of publication. There have been so many directly affected by the global pandemic, leaving many students concerned and uncertain about the next academic year.
In an attempt to combat mounting concerns, the U.S. Senate recently passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, as part of a $2 trillion economic support bill. The CARES Act falls in line with other forms of student aid: An individual’s eligibility revolves around completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and who have indicated financial need. However, it is important to note that, outside of eligibility of students, the decision on how to distribute funds is determined by Binghamton University itself.
While determining need through the FAFSA is a tried-and-true method, it is clear that nothing is certain during this time. BU students are being directly affected by the coronavirus, and students may have lost members of their families, some of whom may provide crucial financial and emotional support. Even then, those who received minimal financial aid in the past may find themselves in greater need as a result of the pandemic.
Outside of the FAFSA, BU needs to reach out to students directly in order to gauge whether or not the student is in greater financial need than they were at the time of filing their application. Students can provide any financial or legal records as current proof of their need, and as a way to verify their responses through the University.
As of now, BU has applied for funding and has been granted $13.6 million, with half of that to be set aside for students. Despite an early application, BU has yet to receive the funds. While BU may be waiting on further instructions from the rest of the SUNY system, as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Editorial Board feels that it is the responsibility of the University to be the ones putting pressure on the SUNY system in order to receive maximum flexibility in spending their half of the CARES Act allocation, as well as complete financial transparency with students. BU is currently behind several other SUNYs in terms of funding received, with University at Albany receiving $16 million, despite having fewer students.
Additionally, the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) of the U.S. Department of Education has placed restrictions on universities, prohibiting using funds for self-reimbursement, previously provided technology going unused and more, delegating that the money is meant to focus on student aid.
There are fears that this amount may not fully be enough to support students in need. States must provide the government with budget and air that reflects previous years of filing for all educational institutions, including primary education schools. Otherwise, they must request a waiver for funding, which may still be rejected, disqualifying them from CARES Act funding. While the fiscal year for New York has remained close to what it was before the pandemic, the CARES Act will hopefully offset the now $1.1 billion loss as a result of the coronavirus.
There are a vast amount of ways in which this $6.8 million can be spent on students. If decreasing tuition and fees isn’t a viable option, the University should choose to provide for essentials like meal plans and housing for students, or even to expand current scholarship programs and work study. College students are also not currently eligible for stimulus checks if their parents have claimed them as a dependent of previous tax forms.
The Editorial Board also feels that the incoming class of 2024 should not be exempt from those receiving help, as they too have been impacted. They may not be Bearcats yet, but they should still be provided with relief from their future university. And, as plans for the upcoming fall semester remain up in the air, scholarships and grants should still remain available for students that earn them — even if classes continue to operate fully or partially online.
The administration has done a fairly good job given the extremely difficult circumstances that have arisen due to the pandemic. While refunds for current students have begun, there is still more the University has to do. With the prospect of financial help going those who need it most, the University must push even further to remind students that they are not alone, and that at the end of the day, BU really does care.