TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) — The coronavirus pandemic that left universities scrambling to make the transition from the usual classroom setting to solely online and remote courses took a hard hit on numerous college students who simultaneously lost a source of income.
Many lost their waitressing and retail jobs amid closures due to COVID-19, leaving them without their usual income while having no other options than to scrounge up money toward additional technological equipment to finish their semesters online.
The CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) allocated funding to colleges and universities in efforts of relieving students of the financial crisis caused by COVID-19.
In total, more than $12 billion will be distributed to colleges and universities across the nation.
Tuesday night, News Channel 11’s Mackenzie Moore reached out to three colleges in the Northeast Tennessee region to see how the institutions will allocate these funds to best fit their students’ needs, along with a college student who, like many, continues to struggle amid her furlough and transitioned college courses.
UNIVERSITY FINANCIAL ALLOCATIONS
|East Tennessee State University||$5,548,379|
Milligan College President Bill Greer said that while the $371,377 funds allotted to the college don’t completely offset the effects brought on by these unprecedented times, the college appreciates the financial boost to ensure students can remain financially secure while wrapping up the semester.
“At this point, we want to take care of our students,” Greer said. “Our priority has been to take care of our people — our faculty, our staff, our students. So, all of the decisions that we made as this ramped up were geared toward getting them home and getting them in a safe and healthy place, and we decided we would figure out the financial impact later.
“So, we are grateful, though, for this funding, for this portion that will be going directly to students to help offset some of their expenses. They don’t have to do anything, by the way, to get these funds. We’ll be assessing that based on the information we have about all of our students.”
Another local university has hopes of stretching the money as far as it can reach.
Tusculum University President Dr. Scott Hummel told News Channel 11 the college will receive the funds — a grand total of $746,998 — as soon as April 15, and the university will allocate those funds toward students who have reported financial difficulties from transitioning from the classroom to the laptop.
These struggles could include added WiFi fees, laptop fees, and online software expenses with the grim reality of many students remaining furloughed throughout the pandemic.
“We have students that had utilized computer labs while they were here, and now they go home, and they’re trying to connect since now all of their classes have been transitioned into online,” Hummel said. “Or many of them were traveling and had to pick up extra expenses related to food and travel and housing, and so we will be able to target this money specifically to these needs.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic generated college course changes, Tusculum had already established a student emergency fund, which allowed students to fill out forms that listed individual financial needs to continue studying at the university.
“We’re going to be sending out additional communications to allow more students to respond so that we can not just provide money, but so that we can be able to target that money to the students that need it most because the ultimate goal here is to enable and equip students to be able to stay in college and to be successful,” Hummel said. “It’s not enough for students to come to college. We really want our students to complete college and to get their education.
“This [COVID-19] certainly has disrupted that and has threatened many of the students in being able to complete their education, so we are very grateful for our government in providing this money.”
EAST TENNESSEE STATE UNIVERSITY
News Channel 11 reached out to ETSU spokesperson Joe Smith, who said that while plans regarding how these funds will be dispersed among students haven’t been officially settled, the funds are geared toward those experiencing financial hardships due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The CARES Act stimulus funding provided by the federal government will help support ETSU students with financial needs that have emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Smith said. “Implementation protocols that will provide details for the distribution of these funds are forthcoming.
“We are deeply grateful to Sen. Alexander, Sen. Blackburn, and Congressman Roe for their leadership in making these funds available to our students.”
THE STUDENT STRUGGLE
One East Tennessee State University student spent four years working toward her bachelor’s degree and expected to walk the stage at the spring 2020 commencement ceremony. Amid the pandemic, she was left without a job and with no other option than to finish her college career online.
Maya Conway served as a waitress at Smokey Bones before the pandemic hit Tennessee, resulting in restaurant closures and a countless number of furloughs among waitress staff.
“I don’t know when I’m supposed to start waitressing again,” Conway said. “Previously before all this began, I was making almost $200 a night and working three to four nights a week. Now, I’m getting $100 per week from unemployment benefits.”
In addition to her furlough and transition to online classes, Conway also continues to raise her baby girl, and her family took another hard blow when her husband was left jobless as a result from COVID-19 closures.
“He’s a barber, and since that is considered being self-employed, he doesn’t get the option for unemployment benefits,” Conway said. “All we know right now is that we’re struggling with the $100 I get a week.
“I’m not going to lie, I’ve been very stressed and depressed. With all of this going on, my last semester at ETSU is left feeling optional, and it’s just not.”
A TIME TO MOVE FORWARD
As regional colleges and universities bring into action their game plans to financially assist students during the pandemic, many school communities are anxious to return to the classroom and a sense of normalcy.
“The greater cost is the longer-term impact on retention on enrollment,” Milligan College President Bill Greer said. “We’re certainly hopeful that our students will want to come right back, and I think that after being confined to their homes for so long, they’re going to be dying to come back, and we’re certainly anxious to have them back on campus.
“It’s hard for a place like Milligan — it is such a close-knit community — to be apart, so we’ve had to spend a lot of time being creative and coming up with ways to keep our arms around our students and our community.”
Tusculum University President Dr. Scott Hummel hopes to see the college’s classroom doors open again in the fall.
“We’re still hoping that this fall we will be able to have face-to-face classes like everyone wants,” Hummel said. “We will certainly make these decisions based on the particular circumstances that ensures a healthy environment for our students.”
All three of the higher education institutions — Milligan College, Tusculum University, and East Tennessee State University — remain online-only for the duration of the spring 2020 semester.
For more information, visit the colleges’ websites below.
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