coronavirus pandemic

Students Worry Over Fall College Term Finances

NBC 7 Responds looked at how financial aid is being affected by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic,

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Updated May 28th, 2020 with information from University of San Diego.

With millions of Californians out of work, many students are wondering what school will look like in the fall. Some students are also wondering if they can afford another term.

"We're seeing a lot more students who need that financial aid just saying this isn't a good time," said Kathryn Knight Randolph, an editor at the scholarship website Fastweb.

CSU San Marcos and San Diego State University are under the umbrella of California State University Chancellor's Office. The chancellor said the CSU fall semester will be primarily held online. With fewer in-person classes, some students are deferring enrollment, while others are looking for cheaper ways to get their education.

"You have students opting to take classes at community college online versus paying for that four-year college scenario they're probably not going to get," said Randolph.

Some students actually prefer online classes, but recognize its challenges. Melissa Stapley lives in Rancho Peñasquitos and is a returning college student. She is no stranger to college and already has a B.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy. Right now she is studying to become a dental hygienist.

"I know others have a hard time with online classes," said Stapley. "You have to be dedicated, otherwise you'll get distracted with things around the house. You have to lock yourself away and get it done.

69% of parents and 55% of students said the pandemic has impacted their ability to pay.

Survey of 6,500 students done by

The coronavirus pandemic has also put a financial strain on millions of families and students. Even people who have not lost their jobs may be facing pay cuts or reduced hours.

An April survey by college admission help site NitroCollege found the coronavirus has financially affected about 69 percent of parents and 55 percent of students entering college in the fall.

The pandemic has also changed how much state money is budgeted for higher education.

"[Governor Newsom's revised] budget does include a $1,000 cut to the Cal Grant award for low-income California students attending private, non-profit universities like PLNU," said university spokesperson Jill Monroe. "We are actively working to see the potential cut restored."

State school systems including the University of California and CSU have also seen a few cuts to their own budgets.

"[The] revised budget does make a cut of $4 million in summer financial aid for UC students," read an email from the UC Office of the President.

The UC system does not expect any cuts for its biggest financial aid program (USAP) nor the amount of money from Cal Grant. Randolph also says it is unlikely students who receive federal financial aid will see their packages reduced.

NBC 7 Responds reached out to the largest universities across the county to see if their financial aid packages are being affected.

San Diego State University
"SDSU has not cut financial aid or scholarships for 2020-2021," read the statement from SDSU. "SDSU has seen an increase in the number of students applying for Aztec Scholarships, the university’s portal for matching students to hundreds of scholarship opportunities."

A spokesperson told NBC 7 it is too early to know if there will be an increase in the number of people applying for school-based financial aid because of COVID-19. However, the university has already seen fewer requests than they did for the last school year.

The school has also expanded its Economic Crisis Response Team to help students in need.

The University of California System
In a statement, the Office of the President told us they know the coronavirus has likely affected students who had already applied for financial aid.

"Any student whose family member lost a job or whose income status has changed [can] request a review of their financial aid," read the email. "Information on what [aid] will be available is unknown at this time as it is highly dependent on allocations of future federal and state funding."

The University said during the 2008 recession there was a correlation between financial stress and an increase in student loans, but did not notice any change in enrollment or academic performance for low-income students.

CSU San Marcos
"There have been no cuts to grants or scholarship programs," said a university spokesperson in a statement. "Rather, the university is looking to add to our grant availability this fall through increased fundraising."

CSUSM starts its financial aid outreach in October, with an early push for their students to complete the FAFSA. "Because of our efforts, CSUSM has not seen a significant difference in FAFSA filers," read the statement.

Point Loma Nazarene University
In an email, a school spokesperson told NBC 7 that 70 percent of students receive some sort of university-provided financial aid. There are also no plans to cut any of those financial aid programs.

"We plan to increase financial aid opportunities for PLNU students," read the email. "This also includes enhanced scholarship opportunities for our graduate students."

PLNU has already seen an increase in emergency financial aid appeals. That's why it has "launched a fundraising campaign specifically designed to support our students in this season."

University of San Diego
A university spokesperson says 71 percent of their students "rely on some form of university-provided financial aid." In an email, Steven Pultz, the Assistant Vice President of Enrollment at USD, told NBC 7 the school is looking to increase the amount of financial support it provides to students.

Pultz says USD does expect to see an increase in the number of students who request financial support, just like the school saw during the 2008 recession.

"From 2008 to 2009, the percentage of first year students who applied for financial aid went from 64 percent to 71 percent," read the email.

Randolph with Fastweb knows that this is a tough time for students who were about to begin their freshman year.

"It used to be at this point you're wondering if you will fit in at the college, or if you really like the dorm rooms," said Randolph. "Now the questions are way bigger, like 'can I afford this, or is this college even going to meet in person?'"

Randolph says many colleges have resources available to students. If you are worried about paying for school, reach out to their financial aid department and look for third-party scholarships. Many of those offers are being changed to help students affected by the pandemic.

"We're seeing providers extend their deadlines, even tweaking applications to ask students how coronavirus has impacted them," said Randolph.

Even though you may have missed the FAFSA deadline for your specific school, it is not too late to fill out the application for federal aid. The FAFSA application for the 2020-2021 school year can be completed online until June 30th, 2021.

Stapley has had her fair share of financial aid applications and says the secret is to not give up hope.

"[There is] a lot of paperwork, you have to talk to a lot of people," said Stapley. "It's not very fun and it takes a while to get results, but you'll eventually get there."

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