As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, Texas college students are facing the perfect storm of health, education, financial, and familial challenges. Many Texas students faced only days’ notice of the loss of their critical on-campus housing and jobs. In addition to the personal and familial housing and financial insecurity exacerbated by the crisis, students confront the additional challenges of adapting to digital classrooms, all under the severe stress caused by a global pandemic.
While the direct financial support from the federal CARES Act will be helpful to many Texans in meeting the challenges posed by COVID-19, many Texas students are left out of that critical support altogether. Direct payments from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (S. 3548) exclude anyone over the age of 17 claimed dependent for tax purposes. This provision means many of Texas’ college students who lost housing, jobs, and other sources of campus aid will not receive any direct support.
While students may be largely left out of direct financial support, the CARES Act does include a $14.25 billion stabilization fund for higher education that will be allocated to states based on student population for use in assisting higher education institutional response to COVID-19 and direct support to students.
As part of the Postsecondary Advocates Coalition (PAC) and in partnership with the Austin College Attainment Network (ACAN), CPPP has signed on to a joint letter detailing 12 steps Texas higher education leaders and lawmakers can take both now and in the coming legislative session to help college students recover from the COVID-19 crisis. See below a summary of the recommendations.
What Texas Leaders Can Do Now for Students
1. Align campus-level efforts to address basic student needs, including internet access, while prioritizing students most in need.
2. Simplify communications on emergency aid and multi-tier resources (e.g., SNAP, health care, unemployment benefits, childcare, academic advising) and create support measures to help students navigate resources.
3. Ensure no negative student loan or financial aid impact to students as a result of the crisis.
4. Adopt a plan to actively protect campus climate in internet-based classrooms especially regarding civil rights, school safety, and harassment (including cyber-harassment).
5. Dedicate resources for mental healthcare access and teletherapy.
6. Implement a transcript notation policy that signifies the Spring 2020 semester occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
7. Increase outreach efforts to and reduce barriers for admitted students from the high school class of 2020 and students transferring institutions.
What Texas Leaders Can Do Next Session for Students
8. Texas must vastly increase its need-based financial aid to support students as they rebound from the economic impacts of COVID-19.
9. Increase targeted supports for today’s students, such as emergency aid and wrap-around services.
10. Bolster access to comprehensive campus mental healthcare.
11. Take action to combat the student debt crisis in Texas by implementing state-level legislative protections against unscrupulous student loan servicer activity.
12. Create consumer protections for student loan borrowers in default so that Texans can move forward after the pandemic.
We appreciate the extremely difficult choices federal, state, and local officials are making to slow down this deadly virus and to “flatten the curve” on new cases. During this critical moment, institutions, elected officials, and state leaders must collaborate on policies that assist vulnerable students through the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.