In efforts to provide financial relief to students suffering added expenses amid the suspension of campus operations, Boston University Financial Assistance began awarding grants from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to students this week.
Of the more than $14 million allocated to BU through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, a minimum of $7,497,658 was designated for HEERF.
Following the May 8 priority deadline for the first round of grant applications, BU Financial Assistance Executive Director Julie Wickstrom said about $11.4 million of the grant money was distributed to students in amounts ranging from $500 to $6,000.
Out of the 5,517 initial applicants, Wickstrom said 4,349 were eligible for an award, 72 percent of which were undergraduates, while 28 percent were graduate and professional recipients.
A student’s financial need helps determine their award amount, Wickstrom said. Grant eligibility is partially based on the expected family contribution determined by their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, she said, so only students who submitted a FAFSA could be considered at this time.
“There are a number of students who submitted the form but didn’t fill out the FAFSA,” Wickstrom said. “We have been emailing those students to let them know that they could be considered if they fill out the FAFSA. So, we’re hopeful that a lot of those students will complete the FAFSA so that some of that funding can go to them.”
The application does not require that students authenticate their claims through receipts or other means, and Wickstrom said the priority is to get money to students in a timely manner.
“We wanted to make the process as easy as possible so we just have a self-certification for students,” Wickstrom said. “We assume that what they’re telling us is the truth.”
There have been instances where students submitted multiple contradicting applications, which then required some outreach. But otherwise, applicants receive no contact before the grant is awarded.
Wickstrom added in a later email that students are also not eligible to receive multiple grants through reapplication.
“We are trying to ensure that we are able to offer funding to all students who need it,” Wickstrom wrote, “so are unable to consider second applications.”
There is no priority deadline for the second round of applications, Wickstrom said, and students can continue to apply until the funds run out. Following the May 8 deadline, about 1,200 additional students applied.
“We didn’t want to put another date out there only to find out that we didn’t have enough money to support that,” Wickstrom said, “because we’ve already spent so much money.”
Despite international students’ ineligibility for federal grants, Wickstrom said they are encouraged to fill out the application in the event that the University can provide them with assistance.
Sahika Aydinol, a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Questrom School of Business, said she cited travel expenses and technology as the main expenses incurred as a result of the campus closure. She is attending BU on a full tuition scholarship and received $3,500 10 days after submitting the application, which she was able to transfer via a Chase Payments link that BU sent her.
Aydinol added that she attempted to follow up with the University after submitting her application, but didn’t hear back prior to receiving her grant.
“I tried to contact them at one point,” Aydinol said. “I asked my financial advisor about the process, about if they would have another application period or if there’s a way to appeal the process but no one contacted me asking any further questions.”
Aydinol said she believes the sum she received is fair.
“I am, overall, satisfied with it,” Aydınol said. “It has been very helpful with all the expenses, but depending on how much longer this is going to go on for, I don’t know if it’s going to continue being enough.”
Chad Rodriguez, a rising senior in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development, received his grant of $3,500 two weeks after applying.
Rodriguez, a BU resident assistant, was forced to move off campus after BU shut down, which is one reason he applied for HEERF. He is currently living with his boyfriend, which he said has helped him financially.
“If I were on my own, I would probably not be able to survive on that,” Rodriguez said. “So I think that while it’s adequate, it was strange that on paper it produced only that much to supposedly help me survive through until school opens back up, I assume.”
Rodriguez added that the restrictions on HEERF applications do not account for the full scope of financial impact at present.
“I feel like most expenses that are incurred are not necessarily related to campus disruption,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just by extension of that, there’s been so much disruption that you would need more aid.”