College Students Are Rapidly Losing Housing Options: What to Do
Amid COVID-19 concerns, many universities have declared that they'll be closed for the foreseeable future. Initially, this was seen as an overblown reaction. However, as the death toll worldwide continues to rise, the first step was to cut off study abroad programs at most universities. The next step was to test students for the virus and quarantine those who had the virus. However, even these steps are not proving to be enough.
Universities large and small across the country are completely closing down. Remember, most college students live on campus, and these schools closing means that these students will be displaced. If you're either a student about to be displaced due to a school temporarily closing or know someone who is, here are some critical tips for keeping safe and finding housing.
Of course, most people would think to ask their parents first (or whoever was their legal guardian before college). Most people shouldn't have an issue going back home for a bit while everything gets sorted out. First, make sure that you are being kicked out of your housing. For example, many students live in housing very near a university that isn't considered "university-owned housing", and it would be unlawful to kick them out.
If you or the person about whom you're concerned doesn't have any known kin alive and/or a good relationship, read on for more tips.
Ask Local Housing Authorities
Especially in states like Maryland, where public universities have all essentially closed down, local housing authorities have already planned for living accommodations for affected students. Most wealthier states have "crisis plans" for students in need. Somewhat similar in nature to "Section 8" programs that allow low-income adults to obtain housing, students will get vouchers passed out from the school that allow them to secure housing in the community.
These should automatically be given to active students. If a student isn't offered this, first contact the school to ask for clarification. After all, student housing typically isn't free. Even if the school is of no help, call housing authorities near the university. Even poorer states, like Tennessee, have contingency plans to ensure that college students don't end up on the streets, where they're even more likely to pass around Coronavirus!
What About My Refund?
College housing has been called many things, but it's rarely called cheap. Most see it as justifiable because students are right on campus, near classmates with whom they can bond, and have access to countless activities on the spot. However, for those unfamiliar with campus housing billing systems, students and scholarships pay for each semester in advance, meaning that students have already paid for this entire semester in advance.
It appears that students will likely be out of school the rest of the semester at these schools. However, some schools strapped for cash are trying to use technicalities to get out of giving out refunds to students. For example, a news station in Rhode Island did an investigation on this matter.
They found that refund policies vary significantly by school. Brown University, known for academic excellence, has stated that students will receive an "account credit" equal to the amount of pro-rated days they were ordered off-campus immediately. However, they are continuing instruction; it will simply occur online rather than in-person. This is clearly not an ideal scenario, but this is probably the ideal response: students will still graduate on time, have a minimal chance of spreading the virus, and still get their money back.
If you aren't being given a straight answer on when you're getting money back, keep pushing. Remember, these institutions have no reason to want to give you that hard-earned money back. Housing is expensive, and at the very least, you should ensure that any housing that has already been paid for will be pro-rated in some way. You may also need to interact with those who fund any scholarships you receive to explain the situation in order to continue receiving the scholarship.
College Housing in Summary During COVID-19 Pandemic
For most young people, a pandemic this size is a lifetime first experience. It's very scary to see death tolls rack up. Though most deaths are of the elderly and immuno-compromised, nobody should treat COVID-19 as a joke. Colleges are taking the right steps, but even with the best crisis plans, some people will "fall through the cracks", making it important that everyone affected pushes for justice.
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