COVID-19 Policy Debrief #1: FAQs for College and College-Bound Students

Image for post
Image for post

College-bound and current college students have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher education institutions across the country have closed, with most moving to online instruction. Additionally, the federal government recently passed the CARES Act which allocated additional funding for post-secondary funding to respond to the crisis. Given the constantly changing nature of the situation, that has left many students, families, and educators with questions about the current post-secondary landscape. This FAQ document attempts to answer those questions. It draws on the resources listed below.

If you have additional policy-related questions you would like answered, please reach out to us at


If students withdraw this semester, does this semester count towards their limited number of semesters to receive Pell funds?

No. Recently, the federal government passed the CARES Act, a measure to provide federal resources to Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of that legislation dealt with federal funding for K-12 and post-secondary education. The bill states that if students do not finish this semester due to the pandemic, it will not count towards the 12 full-time semesters in which they can receive Pell Grants because this is a qualifying emergency. Pell Grants are federal aid provided to undergraduate students in need of financial assistance.

For more information see:

How are student loans affected by the CARES Act?

The CARES Act allows students who have federal college loans through the Department of Education’s FFEL program to temporarily halt payments on these loans without a penalty or the accrual of additional interest on the loans through September 30, 2020. That means that federal loans will have 0% interest rates until the beginning of October. However, it is important to note that this applies only to federal loans, not private loans that many students have. Please note that some FFEL Program loans are owned by commercial lenders, and some Perkins Loans are owned by the institution you attended. These loans are not eligible for this benefit at this time. Students should contact their individual private lenders for details about loan forgiveness and suspensions of payments during the crisis.

For more information see:

What about Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements for students receiving federal aid?

The CARES Act allows higher education institutions to have greater flexibility when calculating the SAP for students this semester, including excluding grades from any classes that were not completed by students or were impacted by the COVID crisis. However, these decisions will be made at the institutional level.

For more information see:

Can students take out additional aid or loans to help financially support themselves during the crisis?

Yes. The U.S. DOE has permitted universities to provide students with additional financial aid if they have been adversely affected by the COVID crisis. Students must appeal directly to their universities to receive additional aid. To qualify, they must be able to show in their appeal that they have been negatively impacted by the crisis, including by such life changes as a job loss, pay cuts, reduction in wages, or being prevented from working due to quarantines.

For more information see:

Are college students receiving federal funding through the CARES Act?

No. But the CARES Act established an emergency fund of $14 billion to provide Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students. Higher education institutions that receive funding through this program are required to distribute at least 50% of the funds in the form of emergency aid grants to students. Only students who have completed and submitted their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) are eligible to receive the emergency funding. This funding will take the form of cash grants to students for expenses they incur during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as course materials, technology, food, housing, health care, and childcare.

For more information see:

Can students who are not U.S. citizens receive these emergency grants?

Yes — but only if they have completed their FAFSA and qualify as an eligible non-citizen under the terms of the federal aid funding program. This means that many non-documented students may not be eligible. DACA students are not eligible.

For more information see:

Many students have parents or family members who have lost jobs during the pandemic and therefore may not be able to pay deposits required for fall admission to higher education institutions. Are schools providing any flexibility on these payments?

Yes — but it depends on the institution. Many universities have pushed back their deadlines for admissions deposits, but to ensure students are in compliance, they should contact the admissions offices of their individual institutions for payment deadlines.

For more information see:

Can students in work study programs continue to be paid?

Yes. The CARES Act allows higher education institutions to continue to pay students in federal work study programs even if they were unable to complete the work requirements due to the crisis.

Fore more information see:

What about students applying to college who need to take or retake the ACT?

In April, ACT announced that it will provide more flexible test-taking options for students who need to take the test in the Summer and Fall of 2020. In-person testing will take place in June and July on the scheduled dates only if permitted based on the latest guidance from the CDC and in conjunction with local governmental regulations regarding quarantines. ACT is adding additional make-up dates in June and July, and will offer opportunities to take the test remotely in the Fall and Winter of 2020.

For more information see:

For students who need to fill out the FAFSA, are there any adjustments to the requirements?

The federal government is providing greater flexibility for students and families when it comes to completing their FAFSA. The April deobligation process, which schools normally have to go through to verify incoming students, was cancelled. Additionally, if institutions cannot receive required documents that are a part of the FAFSA process in person or by mail due to the crisis, students can submit copies of the documents electronically instead. If students cannot get a parents’ or guardians’ signature on the documents, they can also submit a note explaining why they were unable to do so to universities and still maintain their FAFSA eligibility. Finally, students can use expired driver’s licenses and other forms of identification to complete the FAFSA since they cannot renew those IDs during the crisis.

For more information see:

The mission of the Cowen Institute is to advance public education and youth success in New Orleans and beyond.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store