ATLANTA—While making the transition to online-only classes, students may also be facing upheaval in other aspects of their lives as the response to the coronavirus pandemic evolves. From the loss of a job or reduced working hours to food or housing insecurity, students already in tenuous circumstances may find themselves under even more financial strain in the coming weeks.
Georgia State’s Emergency Assistance Fund was created to help relieve some of that strain.
Student Financial Services began administering assistance grants in 2017, primarily with funding from corporate and foundation donors. The program was expanded in 2019 to reach more individual donors and create a broader base of support for Georgia State’s students in need. Donors can and have given in amounts large and small. Hundreds have already done so through a crowdfunding website here.
The money is used to help eligible students with non-academic expenses such as emergency food and housing.
“What we’re finding is that the needs of our students often go beyond direct academic costs,” says Associate Vice President for Student Engagement and Dean of Students Michael L. Sanseviro.
Of Georgia State’s 53,000-plus students, nearly 60 percent come from low-income households, making them particularly vulnerable in times like these.
“We’ve got students who are working multiple part-time jobs, and the jobs that they’re working are often in industries — like food service and retail — that are most affected by what’s going on in the economy right now,” Sanseviro says.
Grants from the Emergency Assistance Fund are awarded on a case-by-case basis and vary depending on circumstance, need and available resources. Since 2017, the university has awarded more than 400 grants, typically between $500 and $2,000. During the 2019-20 academic year, about 100 grants were awarded, totaling more than $60,000.
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, university officials expect a surge in applications for assistance through the program and worry the fund will be insufficient to meet the needs of Georgia State’s large student body.
“I would say the number one thing I’m seeing in these applications during the last week is definitely about unemployment,” Sanseviro says. “The majority of the applicants are students who have been impacted by the current situation and have been temporarily laid off or, in some cases, have permanently lost jobs, and right now there are no jobs for them to get.”
In addition to direct grant distributions, Sanseviro said university officials are working with partners to establish a voucher program that would help some students obtain groceries or stay temporarily in a motel. The need for these resources will be particularly acute as food pantries shut down and shelters close or limit operations.
“We’re hoping to be that stop-gap, to buy them time,” Sanseviro says. “We know this will pass, and we know that at some point our students will work again and re-engage, but in the meantime, how do they continue to finish the semester if they have no income?”
Students requesting emergency assistance can apply through the Office of the Dean of Students here. Those applications are reviewed by a cross-departmental team for follow-up. In some instances, students may be connected with other forms of financial aid or public assistance if those avenues have not yet been exhausted.
The goal of the application, Sanseviro says, is to help administrators better understand a given student’s situation and the types of available assistance that he or she might not know about.
It’s part of a broader, long-term strategy to help students stay on track toward graduation.
“When we ask them about some of the resources they have available,” Sanseviro says, “it is also one of the ways we can do some better case management and figure out what are they already connected to, and what are they not connected to that they could be.
“At the end of the day this is about student advocacy. It’s about how to help build resiliency in students so that we give them the hand they need now to help them up out of the ditch, but then looking at how we can help them to be able to keep themselves from falling back into it.”