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Colleges Get Creative in Assisting Students, Federal Works Affected by Government Shutdown

As the federal government shutdown stretches into the end of its fourth week, colleges around the country are stepping in to assist students unable to make their tuition payments due to themselves or their parents being furloughed.

Although the Office of Federal Student Aid has remained open throughout the government shutdown, allowing the distribution of federal student loans to continue taking place, for students who pay for their college costs out of pocket, normally attainable expenses like tuition, books and fees are now out of reach.

Given the widespread impact that the shutdown has had across the entire country, both community colleges and four-year universities are getting creative in assisting their student bodies.

“People believe this is primarily concentrated in the D.C. or Virginia area,” Dawn Medley, the associate vice president for enrollment management at Wayne State University, told Inside Higher Ed. “There are lots of federal offices all over the United States. People are being affected, and they didn’t know to plan for this.”

According to Medley, Wayne State University has already seen students dropping classes as its spring semester begins. In response, the university has been offering deferred payment plans and emergency loans to students using institutional funds.

“We’re working with students coming now who didn’t think it would take that long or thought their parent would be back to work by now,” Medley said. “Every day we’re having new ones pop up.”

At the College of Southern Maryland, as of last week, over 100 students affected by the shutdown had switched to a deferred payment plan to cope with financial shortages. The college has also been assisting students in applying for state and federal aid for the time being.

These schools aren’t alone in extending a hand to affected individuals.

Thomas Edison State University is covering the tuition for its students in the Coast Guard who haven’t been getting their typical tuition assistance. The University of Indianapolis partnered with a local brewery to offer meals to furloughed workers. American University held a day of free classes surrounding career advancement for federal workers.

Currently-enrolled college students aren’t the only ones affected by the shutdown. Many federal workers who remain in repayment on their student loans are now struggling as well.

Until the government reopens, Colleen Campbell, the associate director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, echoed guidance from the federal government, encouraging these borrowers to contact their loan servicers to discuss their current financial circumstances and to consider opting in to income-driven repayment plans, or postponing payments altogether through deferment or forbearance.

“The Department of Education is not telling servicers who is furloughed,” Campbell told Inside Higher Ed. “There are tools in place that should be able to assist furloughed borrowers.”

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