Some students were forced to take out additional loans for tuition costs this fall after a decrease in financial aid, despite extra assistance from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
The CARES Act, a multi-trillion dollar bill signed into law in late March, has provided economic relief during the pandemic. The relief includes suspending payments and the accumulation of interest on federal student loans, and providing a $14 billion emergency relief fund for higher education institutions.
President Donald Trump issued an executive memorandum on Aug. 8 to extend the student loan payment relief from Sept. 30 to Dec. 31 as part of the CARES Act.
“Currently, many Americans remain unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Trump said in the order. “It is therefore appropriate to extend this policy until such time that the economy has stabilized, schools have reopened, and the crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided.”
Texas One Stop said in an email that student loan forgiveness only applies to students with specific federal loans that meet the requirements of the loan forgiveness programs.
Psychology junior Melanie Montoya said she will deal with financial uncertainty once the CARES Act expires and interest on her loans increases. She said her financial aid award for the school year was reduced in comparison to last year, and her family took out additional loans to cover her tuition.
“Nothing really changed (with) my financial situation,” Montoya said. “These kinds of things are going to be affecting a lot of us for the long run. I don't think anything is going to snap back to normal.”
Isabella Hollis, a studio art and advertising junior, said she found out she had $21,000 in student loans after realizing she did not qualify for free tuition under the Texas Advance Commitment financial aid program.
“It was pretty devastating,” Hollis said. “It was important for me to try to get into as little student debt as possible.”
The program, which supports first- through fourth-year undergraduates and transfer students, expanded this fall to “cover students who have family Adjusted Gross Incomes of up to $65,000 (was previously $30,000) for full tuition assistance,” Texas One Stop said.
Hollis said the initial press releases about the expansion made her believe her financial aid package would cover her tuition, but the expansion did not automatically include all students previously covered by the program.
“The problem was a lack of communication with the students who were affected,” Hollis said. “A mass email regarding the changes in Texas Advance would have been great.”
Hollis said the University’s Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid covered her tuition for this year after multiple emails exchanges with Texas One Stop, a petition from the University Democrats and a tweet of her experience. Hollis said other students were not as lucky.
“I’m very fortunate and grateful to have my tuition covered at least for this year, (but) there's no promises on if they'll do it next year,” Hollis said. “I feel bad for (some of) the students who originally petitioned for this because they're the students that are completely left out.”