UT Student Emergency Fund receives over $800,000 for students facing financial challenges

Lauren Grobe

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.

As of Wednesday afternoon, donors have raised $803,444 to help students dealing with coronavirus-related challenges less than a month after the Office of the President promised to match all donations to the Student Emergency Fund on HornRaiser. 

Money from the Student Emergency Fund is available for all University students facing financial emergencies, especially those related to current COVID-19 concerns, said Sara Kennedy, Office of the Dean of Students manager of strategic and executive communication. As of Saturday, 1,527 students have submitted requests for aid related to the coronavirus.

The Office of the President will match gifts until it reaches $2 million with no specific deadline, said Scott Rabenold, vice president of University development. 

“We're racing towards the $2 million goal as quickly as we can,” Rabenold said.

Rabenold said when the HornRaiser reaches $2 million, the Office of the President will reassess students’ financial needs to determine whether more aid is necessary. 

Along with the HornRaiser, the Office of the Dean of Students has allocated $484,337 to provide students in need money for basic necessities, such as food and rent payments, and $85,824 for technology, Kennedy said.

“This is really something we’ve never experienced before, and what the effect will be on our students and on their families is hard to anticipate,” Kennedy said.

The Office of the Dean of Students also approved 214 laptops for distribution to students.

The emergency fund usually relies on donations, but Kennedy said the dean’s office allocates more funds for students in widespread emergencies, such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“For Harvey, we allocated way more support for our students because that’s what the situation called for, and that’s the situation we’re in here,” Kennedy said.

In 2017, the Office of the President matched donations up to a $500,000 goal. Rabenold said President Gregory Fenves wanted to commit to gift-matching on a much higher level.

“We thought we needed to do a lot more,” Rabenold said. “In this scenario, we just thought the disruption and impact of our students was significantly higher.”

Kennedy said awards from the fund usually range from $25 to $300, but there is currently no maximum award.

“There is not a particular cap,” Kennedy said. “We’re not necessarily able to 100% solve every issue, but we are trying to do whatever we can to meet our students’ needs as much as possible.”

The UT Outpost is currently closed to in-person shoppers but is providing emergency food packages to students in residence halls, Kennedy said. She said the office is looking to expand this to off-campus students in the Austin area.

Rabenold said gift-matching encourages the University’s donor base, such as alumni, to donate more and results in more donations than the office just donating a lump sum.

“To help make ours stick out from others, quite frankly, the match helps the donors. They tend to respond to it,” Rabenold said. “If you’re an alumnus, … you have a heart for the young people on our campus.”

As of Tuesday, there were over 2,600 individual donors. 

Rabenold said Fenves’ departure would not impact the Office of the President matching gifts to the HornRaiser.

Kennedy said Student Emergency Services is providing primarily financial aid to meet the needs of students off campus and out of state.

“Just because they’re not here doesn’t mean they’re not our students,” Kennedy said.