Stetson gets $1.7M for students affected by COVID-19

Exterior shot of Elizabeth Hall

Stetson University has received $1.7 million in federal funding to help students with exceptional financial needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students can file an appeal for financial assistance with the Office of Student Financial Planning, which has begun distributing the aid from the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

Awards have already been made to more than 20 eligible students who had unpaid bills for tuition and fees from the Fall 2020 semester, which totaled about $90,000. Students can now file appeals for help with tuition bills for the Spring 2021 semester, housing costs and other educational expenses.

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Heidi Goldsworthy

To qualify, students must demonstrate exceptional need related to the pandemic, such as a parent’s job loss, reduced work income, losses in their college savings plan or unexpected medical bills, which have impacted their ability or their family’s ability to pay for college. 

“We’ve already had phone calls: Is there CARES money and will I be able to get some?” said Heidi Goldsworthy, director of Financial Aid. “We tell them yes and we have them doing the appeal. We have not seen the huge spike (in appeals) that we saw last spring, but we are starting to see a steady increase.”

This is the second round of COVID-19 relief for colleges and their students. It provided $5.2 million for Stetson, including $3,216,535 for the university to offset lost revenue and higher costs tied to the pandemic on the DeLand campus and $1,678,581 for student aid. About $312,000 is targeted for the College of Law in Gulfport and its law students. (See the related story: “Amid pandemic, Stetson approves lowest tuition increase in 33 years.”)

Unlike the first round of COVID-19 relief last spring, students can opt this time to apply their award directly to their unpaid tuition bill or other outstanding balance with the university. When students file an appeal, they will be asked to sign a consent form if they wish the funds to be applied to their student account. Or they can opt to receive a payment directly for off-campus housing and other educational expenses.

A student receives a temperature check while checking in for COVID testing in the Rinker Field House.
The latest COVID-19 relief bill provides $1.7 million in student aid and $3.2 million for Stetson to offset lost revenue and higher costs, such as providing free testing.

Awards will range on average from $1,000 to $4,500 per student, Goldsworthy said.

“If they live off campus and can’t buy groceries, we’ll help them with that,” she added. “If they have internet or computer troubles, we’ll help with that – anything that we would consider an educational expense, we will take a look at.”

In recent months, her staff has heard a wide range of reasons for the financial hardships created by the pandemic. For some students, their parents have not yet returned to work or, if they have, the family may still be recovering from severely reduced income in 2020. In other cases, parents have continued working all along, but COVID-19 illnesses and medical bills have taken a financial toll.

“These are real heartstring stories,” Goldsworthy said. “We are still seeing families come in where deaths have occurred of older family members or a whole entire family has been affected by COVID-19.”

The latest federal aid, like the first round of COVID-19 relief last spring, places an emphasis on helping students who receive Federal Pell Grants, which are awarded to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need. But this time, universities have a little more leeway to help other students whose families have been affected financially by the pandemic.

To receive an award, students must have filled out a 2020-2021 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). International students are not eligible for the federal aid nor are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (or DACA) students and students who didn’t fill out a FAFSA.

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Amy Gipson

Stetson has still been able to assist students who don’t qualify for federal funds, thanks to a COVID-19 relief fund started by Stetson’s Office of Development and Alumni Engagement. Nearly $700,000 has been raised from alumni and other donors to help students at the DeLand campus and the College of Law who are struggling during the pandemic. Students who want to request assistance from that donor fund also should file the appeal form.

“As our students and their families started to feel the effects of the pandemic last year, our faculty and alumni were among the first to say, ‘how can I help?’” said Amy Gipson, interim vice president for Development and Alumni Engagement.

“The outpouring of support has been inspiring and motivating, and is such a profound testament to the caring Hatter community that exists – even beyond the boundaries of our campus. Once a Hatter, always a Hatter,” she said.

Screenshot of Hatters Care fundraising website
One of the ways to contribute to COVID-19 Emergency Relief for students is through Hatters Care here.

Those donations allowed Stetson to make awards to students during the past year, even after funding from the first relief bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, had been distributed, Goldsworthy said.

“We’ve been helping students since March of last year,” she said. “We are not limiting students to one appeal. They can appeal one semester and appeal the next semester. We are not denying people any assistance at all unless there really isn’t a solid COVID-related reason as defined by federal guidance.” 

For more information, visit the Office of Student Financial Planning or go to the appeal form, called the 2020-2021 COVID-19 Related Request for Review. For questions, email  finaid@stetson.edu or call 386-822-7120.