Universities should be more lenient toward students

By Samantha Iniguez

With College campuses closed for the rest of the semester due to COVID-19 transfer-students are not able to tour campuses. This unique situation brings forth another way students can evaluate transfer options. 

Although the pandemic does not allow transferring students to explore campuses and find what makes one college better suited for them than its counterpart, it allows students to see how their institution is treating its current students during this challenging time. 

Harvard University, which has been ranked number one by many sources including Forbes, Center for World University Rankings and Round University Ranking, was one of the first institutions to shut down and ask students not to return after spring break. 

Harvard student, Hakeem Olakunle Isa Angulu, Computer Science and Statistics Major, took to twitter to complain about how the institute was handling the situation. He tweeted, “Harvard just gave students five days to pack all of their things, move out, and go home. Many can’t go home because of costs and travel restrictions, and they’ve provided no guidance, and we’re expected to go to class for the rest of this week.” 

He continues to express his concern about violating the visa he is using to work in the United States after his graduation, which requires he stay in the U.S. until it is officially authorized in July. 

Harvard’s twitter account replied to Angulu saying, “Hi Hakeem, we know this is a challenging time from everyone. The Griffin Financial Aid office is helping students individually to help them afford to travel home. If you have questions, do not hesitate to call, email, or stop by in person.” 

This is not the first time Harvard has been criticized by one of its own students for not fulfilling the needs of disadvantaged students. 

 Anthony Abraham Jack, Ph.D. Harvard University, 2016, who has since returned to Harvard as an assistant professor told inside higher ed, an online publication based on college and university topics, “To say, ‘Don’t come back after spring break,’ assumes that students leave in the first place, and that is fundamentally not true, because the reality is a significant number of students- disproportionately those from lower-income backgrounds-remain in campus because they can’t afford to leave, they don’t have anywhere to go or they know that home and harm are synonymous. On the last point, that last group includes those who have fraught relationships with their families for reasons from political ideology to gender roles to sexual identity.”  

He also told inside higher ed although he is not a health scholar and cannot tell the university whether to stay open or close, he hopes that students that are looked over in those types of conversations are heard.  

Another campus that gave short notice to students about evacuation is Stanford University. Most undergraduates who live on campus were informed the day before that they had to leave, but students were given a page filled with plenty of resources.  

The Associated Students of Stanford University listed a lot of resources students could take advantage of including: the ASSU Support Fund, COVID-19 Student Support Fund, Stanford First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) Emergency Housing Support. 

Stanford ASSU raised over $190,000 for over 2000 students, FLIP is aiding students that need housing, undergraduate students receiving financial aid will receive help traveling home, receive $200 a week for food and can be reimbursed for rent by filling out applications on the Stanford website. 

DukeUniversity also gave students a short notice about having to move out for the semester. According to The News & Observer, “Duke officials are asking students to vacate campus housing as soon as possible and to leave their belongings in their dorms if they are not currently on campus, according to a letter from university officials.” Students who must be in campus housing for personal safety and health reasons are the only exception. 

According to the Duke website “Duke has launched the Duke Student Assistance Fund, with an initial commitment of $4 million from the university. The fund will be used to assist undergraduate, graduate and professional students throughout the university to help alleviate the burden of unexpected expenses such as airline tickets for relocation, temporary housing, food, and technology for online learning.” 

According to the institution for students to qualify for aid students must be enrolled as an  undergraduate, graduate, or professional student and experiencing immediate financial insecurity due to COVID-19 and have not yet received support for the same expenses from Duke or other sources. 

In addition to funds, Duke is helping its students through this challenging time by supplying Food and Technology Resources.  

The Graduate and Professional Student Council (GPSC) community pantry is supplying needy students with food. GPSC said on the Duke website “The GPSC is offering a limited grocery bag delivery program strictly reserved for Duke students facing immediate food need…Volunteers will be pre-packing grocery bags based upon family size and dietary needs to be delivered to your front door.” 

Duke also shared with its students the North Carolina Department of Information Technology list of free and affordable high-speed internet services. 

Berkeley University of California is another one of the institutions that offered reimbursements to students almost immediately. According to Berkeley Divisions of Student Affairs, “Students living in on-campus housing who choose to permanently move out will receive a prorated refund for their room and board/housing and dining fees for the remainder of the semester with no penalty.” 

The refund offer stood until April 20. After that, students were held accountable for their contract. If students are unable to leave campus, they have the choice to stay given that they pay their rent and practice social distancing. Meal plans were also able to be canceled or updated depending on students needs. 

Berkeley provides a Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) “Registered UC Berkeley undergraduates and graduate students are automatically enrolled in the (SHIP) as a way to meet this mandate unless they have proof of other qualifying health insurance.” 

Wellesley too offered reimbursements for students who left by March 22 the minimum credit is $1,500 and the maximum credit will be $4,000. Apart from refunds the institution also set up an emergency fund for students funded by alums donations. The fund covered packing and moving expenses and added emergency expenses. 

In addition to refunds “Wellesley set up an emergency fund for students that was funded by alumnae donations. The college immediately used funds raised to cover the cost of some students’ travel, as well as packing and moving expenses.” 

To further support their students the institution is enabling a mandatory credit/non-grading status. Wellesley put out a statement explaining the grading person, “To give students the fullest opportunity to complete this semesters academic work and make progress toward their degrees, all courses this semester, including independent studies and senior theses, will be converted to mandatory credit/non grading status.” 

In order not to discredit the handwork of their students the institution is giving students the choice of including mid-semester letter grades on academic records.  After May 11, students will be able to see their midterm grade, then they could decide if they would like their grades included in College official transcripts. On their COVID-19 support page Wellesly shared with students,“The midterm grades will appear in a special box on the transcript but will not be included in GPA calculations.”  

The University of Southern California is extending financial need to its students as well in order to aid with housing, food security, job loss and other hardships. The institution had emergency aid funds set to help students with a one-time large expense due to COVID-19, but only students who are eligible to receive federal financial aid qualify. 

According to the USC website, the institution is extending its helping hand to members of the community as well, “The community fund will support initiative to assist highly vulnerable residents in the area surrounding both the University Park Campus and Health Sciences Campus.”  

The institution also set up a Keck Medicine of USC COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund that will support Keck Medicine healthcare workers, patients and their family. 

Students who haven’t committed to a college should keep in mind the way the institution they are considering treat their students during this challenging time. Students should also keep in mind that the deadline to commit to a school is May 1 although due to the circumstances many colleges have extended the deadline to June 1.

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