As the economic fallout of COVID-19 continues, Drexel’s Undergraduate Student Government Association has proposed the creation of a Student Stimulus Fund as well as a tuition freeze and reduction for the upcoming academic year.
Back in late 2020, the USGA encouraged students to fill out a petition in support of the proposal as well as their personal stories and testimonies about the effects of COVID on their lives. The petition has now reached just nearly 700 signatures and those who signed it have expressed just how bad the situation is for Drexel students and how much a little money would go a long way.
During fall term 2020, Drexel made some effort to recognize the financial struggles students were facing by implementing a tuition freeze. Federal CARES Act funding was also available for students in the form of emergency grants. The CARES Act funding was meant to cover expenses relating to food, housing, textbooks and so on. However, the USGA proposal emphasizes the importance of continuing such efforts during times of COVID and beyond.
The petition contained several components, asking students to sign in support of the proposal, to describe how their families have been affected by COVID, and how a tuition reduction and Student Stimulus Fund would assist them. The results showed that many students and their families are facing issues with job security and health-related costs.
Between spring 2019 and 2020, unemployment rates for individuals between ages 16-24 have tripled from 8.4 percent to 24.4 percent as a result of COVID-19. Drexel students in particular have been greatly affected by economic issues as most depend on their co-op salaries for financial support to pay for tuition, housing, and other costs.
“At Drexel specifically, the co-op employment rate dropped notably from its typical pre-pandemic 98 percent to 82 percent during the late March 2020 to mid-September 2020 (Spring/Summer) co-op cycle — as reported to USGA by the Steinbright Career Development Center,” USGA Student Body President Timothy Hanlon said in the formal proposal for the SSF and tuition reduction.
According to the proposal, co-op employment rates have still not fully recovered to their pre-COVID status.
In the proposal, Hanlon lays out how, in addition to lower co-op employment rates, the majority of Resident Assistants were laid off of their positions back in fall term given the low amount of students living in residence halls. Many work-study positions and other paid opportunities for students were similarly either completely cut or led to a reduction in hours, leaving most students without their normal source of income. In other words, students who were dependent on this income were deprived of the ability to work in the middle of a pandemic.
Hanlon also notes the economic effects of the pandemic on international students as well as students of color. The already-high tuition rates at American universities coupled with additional financial complications from the pandemic have led the enrollment of international students in the United States to dramatically drop in the past year. The pandemic has similarly highlighted some of the structural inequalities among the unemployment rate, as Black people and Asian people have disproportionately unemployed compared to their white counterparts.
The proposal’s argument further focuses on Drexel’s responsibility to its students as the university’s main source of revenue. As the university’s tuition rates were already high prior to the pandemic, it raises the question of whether Drexel will continue raising rates as an increasing number of students are forced to drop out from financial insecurity.
The Student Stimulus Fund, which is one of the proposed actions, would be an initiative separate from the already existing Student Emergency Fund, which provides a one-time payment of only up to $1,000 for an immediate hardship like an accident or emergency. The SSF would be designed to outlast COVID times and to be more flexible with reaching students where they are instead of dictating specific amounts or payments. “In terms of how the SSF would help students,” Hanlon said, “it was interesting to see that most people didn’t say it would cover lavishing costs but rather smaller recurring fees like groceries, medication, and textbooks.”
Behind the two proposals is the idea that students need these small changes not in order to profit off of them, but rather to help cover the cost of living and sustain themselves during unprecedented times. While it is unclear whether any action will be taken by Drexel following the proposal, it is evident that the SSF and the tuition reduction has popular support among the student body, and will likely be a huge part of future conversations at Drexel.
“My hope is that the fund we are looking to create does not just address pandemic era problems but lasts well beyond COVID-19 to continue addressing the needs of my peers,” Hanlon said. “By creating greater camaraderie we will better be able to address the immediate challenges and the aftermath of this pandemic along with issues that extend beyond.”