The stories are heartbreaking.
With the COVID-19 outbreak, Clover Park Technical College students have had to deal with far more than a new virtual-learning environment. Many are parents juggling homeschooling, online classes and working from home. Some are sole earners in their households, supporting parents, children, spouses and extended family. Others and their partners are jobless, navigating the unemployment benefit labyrinth and waiting for nutrition assistance programs to kick in. And with businesses shuttered, internships and externships have evaporated for students enrolled CPTC’s Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, Esthetic Sciences and other programs, putting certifications, careers and paychecks on hold.
“Students are scared and stressed about how they’re going to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads,” said CPTC Foundation Director Janet Holm. “And when they are able to go back to work, they’re worried they won’t cover what they owe for rent and utilities and may end up homeless.”
Students supporting students
When faced with the reality that Washington state’s stay-at-home order was going to last for weeks or months, the CPTC Foundation immediately ramped up efforts to secure as much emergency funding as possible.
“We had to alleviate the financial strain our students are feeling,” said Foundation Development Associate Rae Baghirov. “A common theme we’ve heard is that even just a tiny bit of financial help would alleviate some of the burden.”
In March, Holm reached out to CPTC’s Associated Student Government (ASG) to see if there was interest in partnering to expand emergency support to students during the COVID-19 crisis. With all in-person events cancelled or postponed, ASG immediately diverted event funding, providing $75,000 to ensure a safety net for the college’s most vulnerable students. Within a few weeks, student leaders contributed an additional $25,000. The Foundation provided $80,000 in emergency assistance.
The funding came just in time. During spring quarter, the Foundation received more applications for financial assistance than during the entire 2019-2020 academic year.
“This emergency funding is much-needed relief from the pressure looming over students,” said Wonda Ernsting, Student Government Events & Activities Committee Chair. “Knowing the school is here to help means so much. The student government is grateful to be collaborative partners.”
The support goes beyond emergency financial assistance. Student leaders are participating in a calling campaign to check in on all first quarter CPTC students. In addition, ASG authorized supplementary funding for the student food pantry and is offering weekly events and activities to engage and involve students remotely. More information is available at cptc.edu/studentlife.
“The ASG serves an important role on campus, whether it be student governance, fostering a sense of community, student success initiatives or allocation of resources,” said Cal Erwin-Svoboda, Director of Student Life. “This is a phenomenal example of the ASG’s commitment to students and their ability as an organization to respond to the changing needs of the student body.”
New normal, new processes
Under ordinary circumstances, CPTC students can apply for up to $250 in emergency financial assistance per quarter. Recognizing that students would be hit harder than ever before due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Foundation and CPTC leadership came together early in the crisis to discuss how they could eliminate barriers and get funds disbursed as quickly as possible. Words turned into actions:
- One-day turnaround. Application processing and approval was brought in-house and handled by Holm, Baghirov and a CPTC accountant. Each application was completed and approved the day it was received, and a hand-written check was in the mail by close of business.
- Additional funding. The amount of financial assistance students could apply for was doubled.
- Expanded eligibility. Funding guidelines were changed to include loss of income due to COVID-19 closures or illness.
- Assistance for all. Eligibility requirements were reworked to allow every CPTC student to apply for assistance, regardless of the number of credits they were taking.
At press time, the Foundation had provided emergency assistance to 80 CPTC students. And for more than 40 additional students who couldn’t afford it, the Foundation funded a full quarter of internet access for online learning.
“Our goal has been to come from a place of saying ‘yes’ to all students,” Baghirov said. “We’ve done everything we can to help as many students as possible.”
The need continues
Eliminating barriers and fast-tracking application and funding processes are only part of the puzzle. Donations are critical to support CPTC’s emergency assistance program and student scholarships. To continue helping students, the Foundation submitted grant applications to multiple organizations and participated in the GiveBIG Washington online fundraising campaign. And with in-person gatherings on hold, virtual fundraising events are being considered to ensure students are taken care of throughout the coming academic year.
You can help and support CPTC students with a donation to provide emergency assistance, scholarships and other vital support. Even $5 makes a difference.
“Every donation we receive directly helps a student,” Holm said.