UIndy looks at financial relief for students as online classes begin

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As students adjust to online classes for the rest of the spring semester, the University of Indianapolis is investigating how to go about crediting and refunding students for meal plans, room and board and university-sponsored travel. According to University President Robert Manuel, for the last two weeks, UIndy has been focusing on the logistics of the first step of crisis management. 

The first step of crisis management involves making sure everyone is safe, sound and secure, making sure housing is open, making sure that the university is in compliance with the standards given by Gov. Eric Holcomb and the federal government and providing faculty and staff with opportunities and support to move their processes online, according to Manuel. Now, UIndy is moving its efforts into the credits for services that students have paid for and are no longer receiving and figuring out what relief they can supply students.

It is difficult to think about how to credit students because every student receives a different kind of financial aid package to attend UIndy, Manuel said. Over 90% of UIndy’s students receive aid from either the federal government, the state government, outside sources, private scholarships, or from the university’s own sources that help them afford UIndy. 

“We [UIndy] give about… $43 million a year in our own money to help students afford to come to school here,” Manuel said. “So if you take that construct and then lay it over the fact that the federal government and the state government and even the NCAA, for example, has a ton of compliance rules and regulations about who can and how you can receive any of these kinds of credits to accounts, we need to wade through that very, very carefully. We’re also providing services for people during this time too and so we have to make sure we really understand what the magnitude of the issue is.” 

Manuel said that as of March 20, UIndy has been in touch with Quest Food Services, who runs UIndy’s dining services and that Quest has been helpful with the university’s questions about how it could provide credits to people’s accounts. 

Vice President for Student and Campus Affairs and Dean of Students Kory Vitangeli said that the university has been researching what other universities across the country have done and has been looking at a variety of different methods that could be used for credits or refunds. The decision on credits and refunds has not been finalized yet, but the decision is getting closer, she said.

“We’re continuing those conversations and we want to do the best thing for students and the best thing for the university,” Vitangeli said. “… [We’re] just trying to find a balance for what makes the most sense in terms of credits and refunds. There’s lots of different ways that it can be looked at and lots of different things for us to talk through.”

Along with looking at crediting and refunding students, UIndy is looking at ways for student workers who are now unable to work on campus to still get paid. However, it is a separate consideration from crediting and refunding students, according to Manuel. 

Some of UIndy’s students are on the federal work-study program from the U.S. Department of Education, which makes it more complicated, Manuel said. Vitangeli and Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Jason Dudich, along with the Professional Edge Center and some others, are working on figuring out whether there are other jobs that students employees can do if they cannot do their traditional jobs.

“These are just, again, unprecedented times,” Manuel said. “… there are a number of things that have changed underneath our feet pretty dramatically here, and we are doing the best we can to make sure we’re balancing the legal aspects of this with the human aspects of it.”

Right now, there is an alumni fundraising effort underway that is designed to raise money to cover some of the costs that were lost by students who had international travel postponed, along with helping students who are in need of emergency funds due to losing a job, a lack of work or general financial hardship. The fundraising effort has gone well so far, Manuel said.  The effort, which is being run by Vice President for Advancement Chris Molloy, is part of UIndy’s plan to figure out how to engage the philanthropy that the university has already in motion with its alumni. 

Instead of working on projects that the university had already talked to alumni about, they wanted to shift the focus to helping students and try to get alumni to focus their donations on things that can help the members of the UIndy community who are in need right now, Manuel said.

“For the past year, we’ve had an alumni development campaign that would raise money for certain projects in the academic units,” Manuel said. “…. What we’re doing now is putting out a call to say those [projects] are important things, but right now what’s most important is that we try to find dollars to help offset the costs for students who have put out some dollars.” 

Manuel said that there was a trip to Italy planned with the Strain Honors College and that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had banned travel to Italy only a couple of days before the trip began. Because it was so close to the trip’s start date, there was not much of a refund available from the airline or the hotel [and] students were out of money.

“We’re hoping that through this fundraising effort, we’ll be able to have our alumni help us defray the costs of people who’ve actually lost dollars,” Manuel said. 

The money from the effort will go to the Student Emergency Fund, which UIndy has had for 50 years and uses on an ongoing basis, Vitangeli said. The need for money has become greater due to COVID-19, so the fundraising effort will help put more funds into the emergency fund.

“It’s the same one [fund] we use all year long, but we’ve just seen, obviously, an uptick in need and demand out of that fund and so we’re trying to do a fundraising campaign to help put money into that fund,” Vitangeli said.

Vitangeli said that university is also working with some students who needed assistance through UIndy’s Student Emergency Fund due to not being able to work in their position, because they need money to help them survive or because they are having technology issues. UIndy has had to help several students who needed computers because they had been relying on the university’s computer labs for access.

“We’ve been working with any individual student who really is experiencing a trying time because … they don’t have certain technology needs and we’ve been assisting them individually through the Student Emergency Fund,” Vitangeli said.

Students often see UIndy talk about its campus community as a family that focuses on the same quality and values and that in times of crisis, the community is able to see that come true, Manuel said. He said that he was impressed with every member of the UIndy community that has offered to help.

“Our job has been made just exponentially easier by the good efforts and the good faith involvements of our faculty, or staff, or administration and our alumni,” Manuel said.

For our latest coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus’ impact on the University of Indianapolis, go to http://reflector.uindy.edu/tag/covid-19/.

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