Families and students preparing for the upcoming academic year beginning this fall have much more to contend with than usual because of the coronavirus pandemic. Schools will not be returning to pre-pandemic ways, even those schools that welcome students back to campus and include at least some in-person classes.
Many will continue distance online learning only that was instituted for spring 2020 classes. Others will use a hybrid system combining both online and in-person classes for most students, eliminate the usual fall breaks and then send students home at Thanksgiving until at least after Christmas or longer depending on the health situation on campus. Still others like Harvard plan to have only certain undergraduate classes on campus — in Harvard’s case, just freshmen — with the rest learning online.
Some schools haven’t finalized their plans yet or could potentially change the ones they’ve already made, depending on the trajectory of the coronavirus where they’re located.
“It’s all over the board,” says Ross Riskin, director of CFP and ChFC education programs at The American College of Financial Services, about plans by colleges and universities for the upcoming year.
In general “most tuition-dependent colleges will reopen,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research at savingforcollege.com. “They can’t handle the loss of enrollment.”
But are families comfortable with the arrangements that schools have made for the fall 2020 semester for health reasons and with the costs they will be paying, whether for on-campus or online learning? Or should their students consider alternatives for the fall semester and possibly beyond, depending on the trajectory of the pandemic? ThinkAdvisor spoke with Kantrowitz and Riskin about what families should do now. Here are some highlights.
1. Appeal the financial aid award.
Financial aid at colleges and universities is largely based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which most families have already filed, based on their 2018 tax return. But the financial circumstances of many families may have changed since then because of the virus-fueled recession we’re experiencing. “The number one reason for appeals is job loss or other income reduction,” says Kantrowitz.
Colleges and universities may also be under financial pressure because of lower enrollments and because the White House has issued a directive barring visas for international students, who tend to pay full fare, if all their classes are online this fall. (MIT and Harvard are suing the Trump administration, opposing the directive.)
“I expect a ton of financial aid appeals but schools that didn’t meet enrollment goals and depend on others on endowments may not give as much,” Riskin says.