You may be asking why we want to commemorate this year after all that’s happened, but we think there are still some accomplishments that can be celebrated in higher education.
The Spring 2020 semester started like any other. Little did we know how the world would change by the time students were heading out for spring break. Institutions quickly pivoted to online education until the appropriate protocols could be established to keep students safe on campus. There were, of course, the inevitable complaints about tuition prices and refund policies, but it seemed that vast majority of students accepted that their colleges were doing as well as they could under extremely difficult conditions.
The CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, provided additional funding for colleges with two goals in mind – to help colleges to continue to operate despite increased costs and reduced revenue and to give colleges funds to distribute to students experiencing hardship. The Department of Education quickly devised a process for distributing the funds and the first payments were made before the end of April. Anyone who has worked in higher education for a while knows what an amazing accomplishment this was. In the beginning, like with all new programs, there was quite a bit of confusion. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) jumped in to provide valuable information and support.
Fast forward to the summer – COVID surges once contained to the Northeast and the West coast were now spreading across the South and Midwest. In most cases, whatever plan the college administration came up with in the spring had to be tossed out the window with the summer’s developments. Institutions created hybrid learning programs to reduce the number of people on campus at any given time while still offering quality educational programs. They instituted COVID-19 testing protocols and created quarantine housing for students that tested positive. Such things have never been the responsibility of a college administrators, but so many across the country took on these challenges so their institutions would remain open for students to continue their education.
Speaking of students, we should recognize the adaptability of our students as well. Can you imagine not knowing if you can move into your dorm as planned or will need to learn from your parent’s home? Our students put up with quite a bit to be able to continue their education. There were numerous accounts of students staying on campus for the Thanksgiving holiday to avoid risking the health of their families. More recently some bowl-qualifying football teams chose not to play, preferring instead to be able to spend the holidays – safely – with loved ones.
So, cheers to the entire higher education community for its adaptability and perseverance in the face of the great challenges faced this year. Happy holidays from all of us at the Higher Education Assistance Group – you’ve earned it! – and have a wonderful (and healthy) new year.