Funding College Back on Track

By Jenny Sadaka-Eitnier

Funding from the government in addition to innovations with virtual options to complete financial aid, helped students get back to school at College of Southern Nevada as pandemic wains.

According to CSN’s Covid Updates Webpage, the U.S. Department of Education authorized three parts of Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund for Coronavirus relief to help schools and students.

HEERF I, under CARES Act, CSN was allotted approximately $7 million distributed to 9,624 students as of Mar. 13, 2020. HEERF II, under Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, awarded CSN another $7 million that, as of June 10, 2021, was distributed to approximately 13,000 students. HEERF III, under the American Rescue Plan Act, CSN was given close to $30.6 million that as of Oct. 28, 2021 was awarded to about 40,000 eligible students: an education stimulus of sorts.

CSN’s Student Demographics Dashboards page shows that in the fall of 2019, prior to the pandemic, attendance at CSN was roughly 36,000. It was down to 29,200 in spring 2021 as the pandemic was in full swing. In good news, attendance is up around 31,000 students this fall term.

During the pandemic there was a drop in attendance for many reasons.

Assistant Director for Financial Aid Tina Holcomb explained, “Because so many people were focused on their physiological and safety needs, they put off applying to colleges and getting aid. (College) is not usually something people think of as a solution when their priorities are paying rent and or feeding their families.”

Holcomb added, “Because enrollment has dropped, there has been a drop in our overall awarding of regular financial-aid funding. Our community was reeling from the financial side effects of the pandemic.”

Another aspect of the issue was taking Free Application for Federal Student Aid virtual so that CSN could help students get the money they needed to attend school.

FAFSA is a federal loan program used by colleges to configure the financial aid to award students based on their family’s income, a necessary step for most students entering school.

Financial Aid Senior Specialist Shannon Gilliland added, there were a few hiccups with the FAFSA process at the start of Covid-19. Solutions were found pretty quickly.

Abigail Enright, assistant director of financial aid, said students had tech issues accessing appointments early on. “Many of our staff would take the time to assist in setting up the technology for students and still meet with them about their financial-aid questions.”

Holcomb added, applications could not be processed by phone because they could not see a photo ID to confirm the student’s identity to ensure they weren’t releasing the information to the wrong person. She explained that WebEx and MS Teams were adopted for individual meetings, reinstating security to the FAFSA application process.

Holcomb said that despite technical hurdles and decreased aid awards, “Students are receiving more funding during this period than they have in all my prior years at CSN Financial Aid office.” She worked for CSN for more than 25 years. The increased funding will stimulate re-enrollment and growth.

CSN Academic Advisor Royce Young stated, “I haven’t really experienced any students who have not enrolled due to financial hardships resulting from COVID. Early on, there were some students who had financial issues, but I think the stimulus checks and the emergency funds alleviated most of those concerns. Most of the concerns that I have seen students face was due to scheduling of classes. Many of the students I talked to were reluctant to take online or in-person classes. Most recently, I am experiencing students who are unwilling to get the vaccine and are reluctant to register due to the mandate that is in place.”

As campus opens up again, some students access financial aid help in person while others are still employing the virtual options to complete FAFSA and work with financial aid.  

%d bloggers like this: