Second in a series on COVID-19 and studying in Spring 2021
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was instituted to provide assistance to individuals and families suffering through the economic trials of COVID-19. I will not rehearse the details of the act here, but rather address the impact for students at West Texas A&M University. These opportunities and benefits are similar at nearly all universities.
CARES Act funding available for WT students in the 2020-2021 academic year is $2,882,384. The Data Lab reports these funds are being allocated by the federal government as part of the COVID-19 economic stimulus package that totaled $3.5 trillion. As of November 11, 5,173 WT students received grants in the amount of $1,698,930. The average award was $330. Grants for the fall semester have ended, which leaves approximately $1.2 million for grants to be awarded spring 2021.
With ever increasing costs of higher education, people struggling to pay bills, and my persistent reminder to be wary of excessive education debt, someone might assume all eligible students applied. Someone is wrong.
In the past spring, a total 5,208 students were eligible for CARES funding at WT, yet only 2,505 students—48% of those eligible—applied for grants. During the summer semesters an additional 1,811 students were eligible, and only 320 students, or 17%, took advantage of the benefit. These results track national trends.
In the current fall semester, 5,707 WT students were eligible, yet only 2,348 students, or 40%, received a grant. This is disconcerting: Students and families should seek every means available to reduce the cost of college and enhance the lifetime economic benefit of earning a degree.
The process to apply for a CARES grant is not burdensome. The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, must be making satisfactory academic progress, must not be in default on a federal loan, and must have a current Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form on file. In addition, males must be registered with the selective service, and graduate students cannot be enrolled in a 100% online program.
By comparison, 13,000,000 students received $150 billion in federal aid last year. The Pell Grant program, in existence for 50 years, allocated $30 billion according to Statista. Nerd Wallet claims $2.6 billion was left on the table. Over a third of high school seniors did not complete a FAFSA application. The participation rates are low in Texas, too. In response, Governor Abbott, through House Bill 3, requires all high school seniors to fill out FAFSA applications in 2021 as a means to increase college affordability for all Texans.
While the FAFSA form requires some work, the information requested is the same information required for nearly all grants, scholarships, and financial support for students. Gathered and recorded once, the data can be used repeatedly.
I encourage students working toward a degree to continue in the spring of 2021, knowing that current circumstances are challenging for all and nearly insurmountable for some. WT will award full-time undergraduates, those enrolled for 12 or more student credit hours, approximately $500 to $600. Those enrolled part-time, taking less than 12 student credit hours will likely receive between $250 and $300. Admittedly, these awards are modest compared to the total cost of college. Leaving them on the table, though, is not modest, it’s foolish and contradicts the notion that college costs too much.
I encourage WT students to apply for CARES Act grants soon. Don’t wait too long. Use some time over the holiday break to fill out the paperwork before the start of the New Year. If it takes three hours and $300 is awarded, that’s one hundred bucks an hour, but it shouldn’t take three hours. Students will receive the award if they meet the stipulations above. It is possible that additional CARES Act funding may become available in spring 2021. If the FAFSA form has been filled out, students may be eligible to receive additional CARES Act funding. Additionally, CARES Act funding is not taxable.
The spring 2021 grant application process at West Texas A&M University will open the week of December 14 and will remain open until the $1.2 million in CARES Act funding is completely disbursed. Our goal is to award every penny of this funding to assist students in reducing the costs of higher education.
Don’t be foolish. Apply on December 14, 2020, or as soon as possible. When the funds run out, they run out.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/