Financial aid requests surge as fall tuition bills arrive amid furloughs, job losses

BOSTON — Paying for college is a true budget buster, but tuition bills for this fall’s semester will come out as millions of people grapple with unemployment and furloughs.

Some schools are already seeing a deluge of calls to their financial aid offices with people looking for help.

“When I started seeing businesses close, and things not opening, I said to myself that this is going to be difficult, this is going to be hard because things are not going to be normal,” said Nick Zecco, who just graduated from Shrewsbury High School.

Zecco is planning on attending Assumption College, but was nervous as the corona virus hit his family pretty hard. “Money is obviously going to be a prime factor that goes thru a parents, and the student’s head, as well. Whether or not it’s going to be even more of an impact, or whether this is a possibility or not.”

"I think that we’re going to see many families asking the question whether or not their sons or daughters can return in the fall,' said Francesco C. Cesareo, PhD, the President of Assumption College.

Cesareo did some quick fundraising and shifted some budget items around.

“We established this three million dollar relief fund, where students whose family situation had changed because of the pandemic could apply to receive additional financial aid help for next year,” he said.

Eligible students could receive up to $10,000 towards tuition, and another $8,500 to help pay for room and board. So far, 200 incoming freshman like Zecco have qualified for this assistance.

“Business as usual is not going to work, not only in the short term, but really in the long term,” explained Cesareo. “I think what’s happening is a pivotal moment for higher education that’s asking us to rethink everything in how we deliver instruction.”

Worcester State University is experiencing a similar surge in demand for help, according to President Barry Maloney.

“We’ve absolutely seen our students apply in greater numbers," he said. "We raised $70,000 in our emergency fund, but we’ve had almost $100,000 of asks, so we’ve been trying to keep pace.”

Gregg Cohen, Founder and President of Campus Bound, which helps families find and finance college, says parents and students should let a school know if their economic situation has changed.

“Reach out, talk to them," he said. "The worse they can say is that you’re very interested in this school, that if money weren’t an object it would be a high priority. They want students that want them.”

If more aid from the school doesn’t come through, Cohen says there are other options to consider:

  • Additional loans which carry lower interest rates today.
  • Starting at a community college and then transferring to a four year school.
  • Taking a gap year.

“This is an evolving process,” added Cohen. “Some of the rules in general about how students have to make final decisions, and how colleges recruit students, have changed.”

Zecco is grateful he fell in love with Assumption College, and that they offered a helping hand when his family needed it.

“I think that’s just something that takes the weight of a family’s shoulders, especially with the effect we have now with the virus," he said. "We can’t work, or our parents can’t work like they normally would.”

Zecco plans to major in business administration.

A recent survey by a higher education consulting first found that 17 percent of prospective college students are changing their plans for the fall. About two thirds plan to go, but are concerned about paying for it.

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