OTHER EQUITY CONCERNS
Although the room and board refunds alleviated financial pressure for many students after campus shut down, equity concerns still remained following the campus closure and sudden switch to remote learning.
Students who were unable to return home — either because home was not a safe or viable option or because of the rapidly evolving travel restrictions — were permitted to remain on campus with safety guidelines in place.
These decisions included consolidating the number of dining halls, while addressing students’ dietary needs, de-densifying student housing on campus, while making sure students still had some access to a “community” of other remaining students and ensuring that students had access to critical services like Yale Health.
“The primary issues were related to food, housing, healthcare and general safety,” Howard said. “So the most pressing decisions were focused on how to address these concerns, while offering the opportunity for as much normalcy for the remaining students.”
For students returning home, administrators took stock of what resources they would need to complete the semester remotely.
“Once students had arrived safely home, we began trying to assess the needs of students to complete the semester remotely — beginning with those students we knew had the greatest financial needs, or may have the most limited access to the technology necessary to complete the semester,” Howard said.
The YCDO organized a plan to retrieve laptops and other essential items from student rooms on campus and ship them to students. Emergency loans of laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots were also provided for students who did not have access to a computer or stable internet connection. In certain cases, emergency grants were provided to students in order to enhance their home internet capacities or to fund repairs on their existing technology to allow students to participate in their online classes, Howard said.
COSTS TO THE UNIVERSITY
The only permitted departmental spending during this period was for student wages. Departments, residential colleges and University offices continued to pay student workers their expected hourly wages for remote work. In cases where remote work was impossible, departments were instructed to pay their student workers for the number of hours they would have spent working had they remained on campus. For some students, continuing to receive these wages has filled the gaps in family income.
“Basically the money I’ve [been] getting from campus I’m saving because my dad has stopped working, since he’s 65, and the money I make is helping support us for a little,” Olivares said.
In addition to student accommodations during the pandemic, the University also had to formulate a plan for staff members who shifted to working on a significantly depopulated campus.
According to University Provost Scott Strobel, Yale Housing and Dining staff continued to be paid throughout the spring and summer. In addition, the Yale Housing and Dining staff are currently being paid the same amount and with the same number of workers as they would if the campus was operating at full capacity, Strobel said.
“We used University reserves to pay their salaries even though some of the work stopped when students left the campus and some of them were not able to work from home,” Strobel said. “The cost to cover salaries for employees who could not work was more than $25 million.”
Other schools across the nation — such as Stanford University, Harvard University, Columbia University and Cornell University — issued similar financial policies regarding students’ housing and dining costs during the spring semester.
In an email sent to Cornell students, the university said it would provide “on-campus students with emergency financial assistance to support their relocation expenses by offsetting the value of their remaining housing contract beyond March 29, 2020.”
Undergraduate students who resided in a residence hall at Columbia also received a prorated refund based on the day students were mandated to vacate their residence halls.
Not all schools issued refunds, however. Julia Coccaro, a sophomore at Barnard College last year, spent days waiting for answers from Barnard before she was notified that she would not receive a housing refund based on her financial aid package.
According to Coccaro, she wanted to use the refund to support living costs in New York City. Since she did not receive a refund from the school, Coccaro lived on campus in Morningside Heights for the remainder of Barnard’s spring semester.
As the pandemic draws on, colleges’ financial responses continue to vary across the country. While Yale’s budget allows the University to adapt in this changing time, some smaller colleges are cash-strapped and unable to do so.
MacMurray College in Illinois, for example, announced in May that it had to close after 174 years, making it the first higher education victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rutgers University, a public school located in New Jersey, has reported they will lose $200 million in revenue due to COVID-19, according to university President Robert Barchi at a board of governors meeting earlier this year. A quarter of that — $50 million — will be used to refund students for unused campus services.
“Basically, I’m pretty grateful for the way Yale handled this whole situation in the little time we left for break to the time we were asked to not return,” Olivares said. “I know a lot of my friends from small liberal arts colleges who are also FGLI didn’t get refunds or aren’t currently getting paid for their on-campus jobs until the end of the school year. You know the only way Yale is able to do this is because of how much money it has, and I’m thankful that they actually used their budget to support students for the couple weeks left in the semester.”