Tuition Costs Amid COVID Pose Opportunities and Hardship

Though India Gerald acknowledged that her journey to Temple University came wasn’t without uncertainty, she said the COVID-19 pandemic created the economic conditions that allowed her to live on campus at the school of her choice for much less than expected.

Last fall, Gerald left Philadelphia, three weeks into her freshman year, after a spike in COVID-19 cases compelled her to continue learning virtually from the confines of her northeast D.C. home.

As part of an effort to fill up dorm rooms, Temple University had since made several overtures to Gerald and other students.

“They had all these discounts [because] a lot of people didn’t want to come [to campus] with the restrictions,” said Gerald, a freshman studying biology on the pre-med track.

During Gerald’s senior year of high school, after the public health emergency started, the scholarship search grew difficult for her, so much so that she zeroed in on scholarships from local chapters of Black Greek letter alumni organizations and assistance from the DC College Access Program (DC-CAP).

Though she ended up receiving a full scholarship from the University of Massachusetts, Gerald said the urban atmosphere surrounding Temple caught her eye, along with the cost savings that accumulated before and amid the pandemic.

“They gave a certain percentage cut on tuition, housing and food,” Gerald told The Informer as she recounted her experiences applying for schools and scholarships last year.

“It was kind of difficult searching for scholarships,” she said. “I didn’t know the possibilities. When the pandemic arrived, I didn’t want to go to a school that was too far just in case something happened.”

Colleges and Universities Attempt to Keep the Momentum

As pressure mounts for colleges and universities to retain students, some of these institutions have either frozen or slashed tuition costs or expanded scholarship programs.

Even so, the average cost of tuition increased during the pandemic, albeit at a lower rate than in previous years. The College Board’s Trends in College Pricing report, released last fall, showed that figure rising to more than $36,000, what had been described as an increase of less than $1,000.

In the District, officials at Howard University said that though they’ve continued to incrementally raise tuition, they’ve doled out special grants to Pell Grant recipients and others who met the financial need qualifications.

A.J. Jones, the university’s associate provost and assistant vice president for management, told The Informer that the exodus from in-person instruction to virtual learning, and accompanying cost savings, has attracted more families than in years past.

“We have seen an increase with our new student population. The total enrollment grew as well,” Jones said.

“We know that part of it was that when we went online, it actually allowed students to save on costs because we had no housing or meal charges,” he continued. “Students who might have had a [financial] challenge remained at Howard. That helped solve that problem, adding to the fact that we had increasingly larger new student classes since fall 2018.”

Work-Study Victimized by COVID

For some students, no grants or cost savings have sufficed in a world where few, if any, work-study opportunities exist.

In years past, the $1.2 billion federally funded college program has allowed hundreds of thousands of students to hold part-time, minimum-wage jobs while attending school. Since the start of the pandemic, however, colleges and universities have either limited that financial aid option or scrapped it altogether.

In many cases, a primary reason for this development involves departments’ movement to the virtual realm.

That’s why College Bound, Inc. launched a program last fall connecting college students with high school seniors navigating the college application process. This counts among the latest offerings for the local nonprofit that, for more than 30 years, has provided academic enrichment and resources to prepare students in the public and public charter school systems for college.

As part of College Bound, Inc.’s newest endeavor, these college students, all of whom are alumni of College Bound’s academic mentoring program, help current students with college applications, essays, and other aspects of the college application process, all for wages like what they would’ve received at their work-study job.

Kenneth Ward, executive director of the program, said he saw the ongoing dilemma as an opportunity to not only help former College Bound youth succeed during an unprecedented time, but allow them to pay it forward to those who are working to finance their college education.

“We’re paying our College Bound alumni an hourly wage to supplement what they would have gotten, but that’s just for a small group of students,” Ward told The Informer. “I’d like to do more of that.

“Tuition hasn’t changed, so students are [still] on the hook for that. This year, we’ve had a larger percentage of [high school] students being proactive. The pandemic has sort of shown them the need to apply for more scholarships and create other pathways.”

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