As the nation headed into what would become the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history, community college leaders were quick to offer a helping hand to their students.
More than 140 students at the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) who were furloughed during the shutdown submitted online requests for assistance, said college spokesperson Karen Smith Hupp.
Many of the nearly 6,000 students enrolled at CSM are employed at nearby military bases or federal government offices. A portion of those students were furloughed or had family members furloughed during the partial shutdown, which ended Jan. 25.
When the shutdown began in December, CSM implemented a tuition payment plan that allowed affected students to bypass any down payments or enrollment fees, and students were told they didn’t have to start making payments until a federal budget was approved and they returned to their jobs. Eight-one students signed up for the offer, for a total of more than $107,000 in deferred tuition payments, Smith Hupp said.
The college also provided $27,000 in emergency grants for books and supplies to furloughed students, and CSM approved financial aid extensions to about 10 students, she said. CSM hosted four information sessions to inform students about resources available during the shutdown.
In addition, furloughed workers were encouraged to use CSM’s Hawk Feeders at each campus. These micro-food pantries – in small cabinets – are stocked by individual donations from students and staff, as well as through food drives.
“CSM is all about supporting our students, and there is no better example of meeting our mission than this one of being able to support our students who were impacted by the federal government shutdown, and easing some of the stress they were under as a result of the uncertainties they were facing,” said President Maureen Murphy, who serves on the American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) board of directors.
“It is a tribute to the dedication of our staff and the generous support of our CSM Foundation that we were able to help all of the students who enrolled this spring semester and reached out to us for this assistance,” Murphy said.
Other Maryland community colleges with similarly affected students also stepped up to help. At Anne Arundel Community College, seven students furloughed during the shutdown were given extra time to pay their student loan bills, said spokesperson Alicia Renehan.
The college made a special effort to remind all students of the resources it provides, including a food bank and HelpLink, a temporary, short-term emergency grant to students for critical expenses, such as childcare, food, housing, living expenses, healthcare, course materials and transportation.
“Student use of HelpLink did not significantly change” during the shutdown period, however, Renehan said.
It also doesn’t appear that the shutdown affected enrollment at Anne Arundel.
“There are so many factors at play that we can’t really say whether the furlough affected enrollment or not, but there was no significant change during that time period that made us think it did,” Renehan said.
The same appears to be true at Montgomery College.
“We haven’t seen any blips in enrollment,” said college spokesperson Marcus Rosano.
Furloughed students at Montgomery College were encouraged to tap: financial aid payment plans; emergency aid for rent, food and transportation; the college’s food pantries at three campuses; and its mobile markets offering free produce and clothing.
Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) in Maryland also offered tuition assistance to furloughed students affected by the shutdown.
“We are committed to support these students and ensure that their educational endeavors are not prolonged or interrupted,” said PGCC President Charlene Dukes, a former AACC board chair, as the shutdown got under way.
“Our goal,” Dukes said, “is to help alleviate stress and worry for those impacted so that they continue their pursuit of a higher education with the necessary focus and determination.”