CORONAVIRUS

Iowa campuses distribute millions in federal coronavirus aid to students

'We expect all who applied will receive some funding'

Iowa State University Campanile, built in 1897-98, is home to the Edgar W. and Margaret MacDonald Stanton Memorial Caril
Iowa State University Campanile, built in 1897-98, is home to the Edgar W. and Margaret MacDonald Stanton Memorial Carillon. (ISU photo via Facebook)

IOWA CITY — Iowa’s public and private colleges and universities are distributing millions in coronavirus aid the federal government earmarked for affected students, with Iowa State University announcing Tuesday it already has allocated $7.8 million to impacted Cyclones.

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security — or CARES — Act, Iowa’s public universities received a total of $45.5 million, allocated largely on a school’s percentage of full-time Pell Grant students or those with significant financial need.

That criteria landed ISU the most aid among Iowa’s higher education institutions — at $21.7 million, followed by $16.2 million for the University of Iowa and $7.6 million for the University of Northern Iowa.

Private and community colleges received smaller amounts, including $1.5 million for Coe College and $6.3 million for Kirkwood Community College, both based in Cedar Rapids.

The CARES Act requires half of any amount a school receives go to affected students who need help paying for things like rent, food, child care, technology or similar needs. Iowa’s public universities, community colleges and private schools promptly distributed information about the available money and how to apply.

ISU reported Tuesday it has received 7,354 applications for aid due to hardships caused by COVID-19 — about 1,300 of which it still needs to review.

“We expect all who applied will receive some funding,” ISU spokeswoman Angie Hunt said.

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Of its $10.8 million in CARES Act money meant for students, ISU has distributed $7.8 million, according to ISU Financial Aid Director Roberta Johnson, who expects the final applications to exhaust the remaining funding.

Although ISU’s application process closed May 22, deadlines varied across campuses.

The UI process still is open, although it imposed a May 22 deadline for students who graduated this spring and aren’t continuing on in a UI graduate or professional program.

UNI imposed a deadline for “priority” applications of May 8, and last week announced it was beginning to distribute its $3.8 million in student-specific aid to more than 3,000 applicants — with some getting up to $2,200 in relief.

Because not all students affected by COVID-19 mitigation efforts met requirements to receive CARES Act funding — including that applicants complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — Iowa’s public universities also started separate student-support campaigns.

A #CycloneStrong campaign, for example, has raised $65,000 in donations to date — not just for students but for other initiatives, like a temporary food pantry.

A UI Student Life Emergency Fund has raised more than $92,800.

And a UNItogether Scholarship fund generated $50,000 in donations to “help mitigate tuition costs for new and returning students facing financial hardship due to COVID-19.”

A $134,000 contribution from ISU athletics to that campus’ completion grant program also supported its efforts to stretch and leverage resources “to help students to the broadest extent possible,” Johnson said.

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“Many of our students lost a part-time job and that’s how they were paying the rent or buying groceries,” she said. “This funding helps them cover their rent for a couple of months so they didn’t have to worry about being evicted.”

ISU’s average grant amount is about $1,400, and Johnson said the need far outweighs the available resources. In some cases, students still are choosing between buying groceries and paying their internet bill.

Even as needs persist and go unmet, though, students have expressed gratitude by — in some cases — paying it forward, or back. One ISU student who received aid, for example, returned it after landing a summer job “so other students with greater need could benefit.”

“We are touched by the selfless act of this student,” ISU President Wendy Wintersteen said in a statement. “We know there are many students experiencing hardships during this crisis. I deeply appreciate the swift action of the Student Financial Aid team to direct this much-needed financial assistance to students in need and their continued efforts to support our students.”

UNI President Mark Nook in a statement thanked lawmakers and his campus’ financial aid officers for their fast work in netting and then distributing the money.

On the community college front, Kirkwood earlier this month said it so far had awarded $1.9 million to more than 1,200 students struggling financially from the pandemic. Students were given between $300 and $2,000, depending on their needs.

Kirkwood received student aid to distribute through both the CARES Act and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program. Through mid-May, Kirkwood had awarded $1.8 million of CARES Act money to 1,115 students and $83,650 in opportunity grant funding to 132 students.

Officials noted that shifting federal guidance hampered their efforts and left some students without access to the resources, according to Kirkwood Director of Financial Aid Matt Falduto.

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“We had a plan to help all of the students,” he said in a statement. “When the Department of Education changed the rules and required that students be eligible for financial aid, it was really disheartening.”

Kirkwood, like its public university counterparts, has since started a COVID-19 Emergency Fund for students ineligible for the funding.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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