COVID-19 May Force State Budget Cuts, Leaving College Students Short on Aid

COVID-19 May Force State Budget Cuts, Leaving College Students Short on Aid

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Since COVID-19 has forced business closures and job loss, state revenue has dwindled. And now there’s cause for concern among colleges and universities about how they’ll provide financial aid to students who need it most if the state budget has to be trimmed down.

  • Student need will be reevaluated and families needing more aid are encouraged to ask for additional assistance
  • Otterbein University started an emergency fund to supplement financial aid for students whose families experienced job loss
  • The Ohio College Opportunity Scholarship Fund once hovered around $240 million, but was cut to $74 million when the 2008 recession hit

The amount of aid colleges will be able to provide in the coming months may be cut drastically if the state budget is cut back. Some are comparing the possibility to 2008 recession cuts.

Otterbein university officials say they’re not fully sure how they’ll handle it this time around since they’re still trying to recover from the last loss.

Only a month into the shelter-in-place order and Ohio colleges are wondering how they’ll help students needing financial aid get it for the upcoming year.

Jefferson Blackburn-Smith, VP of enrollment management at Otterbein University said, “Because we’re in the middle of a two year budget, what happens with funding for 2021.”

He said a loss in state revenue could mean deep cuts in current and future funding for student aid.

Reflecting on the impact of the 2008 recession, Blackburn-Smith noted that $166 million in assistance for the Ohio College Opportunity Grant was cut and in the 12 years since, less than half of that amount has been restored.

“That’s the environment we start in before the governor rightly says the state is facing an unexpected issue and state agencies need to find cuts of up to 20 percent in their budget,” said Blackburn-Smith.

Blackburn-Smith believes with the pandemic, they’ll see more students in need of state or federal aid than they have money to give. That could leave some colleges strapped, including private colleges without a cash reserve.

“There are very few of us that have a strong enough endowment that can say we’ll just cover everything, you don’t need to worry about that. And so it is a real challenge,” he said.

So, at Otterbein they are taking small steps and developing as many monetary resources as possible to supplement tuition through things like Cardinals Care. It’s an emergency grant being offered in the fall to students whose families experience hardships due to COVID-19.

“We will then reevaluate students — number one, are they now more eligible because of job losses for existing state or federal aid,” said Blackburn-Smith.

In spite of potential funding challenges, Blackburn-Smith is encouraging families to still pursue higher education and more help even if it looks like they won’t be able to afford it right now.

The Federal Cares Act is providing support, but colleges are still waiting to see how they’ll be able to use those allocated resources.

For now, Blackburn-Smith says that families should contact their colleges of choice if there’s been a change in employment and ask for financial aid to be recalculated.

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