How community colleges are helping students in need during pandemic

  • Harper College in Palatine is granting up to $500 to help students with groceries, rent, mortgage, medical expenses, and any other financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Harper College in Palatine is granting up to $500 to help students with groceries, rent, mortgage, medical expenses, and any other financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. Daily Herald File Photo

  • The College of Lake County Foundation in Grayslake has dedicated $140,000 for student relief, half funded through donations and matched by college resources.

    The College of Lake County Foundation in Grayslake has dedicated $140,000 for student relief, half funded through donations and matched by college resources. Daily Herald File Photo

  • The Oakton Community College Education Foundation has put $50,000 into a Student Success Fund to cover the purchase of 200 Chromebooks loaned to students. The foundation is matching donations of up to $50,000 through Wednesday, April 15.

    The Oakton Community College Education Foundation has put $50,000 into a Student Success Fund to cover the purchase of 200 Chromebooks loaned to students. The foundation is matching donations of up to $50,000 through Wednesday, April 15. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 4/11/2020 5:57 PM

A single car payment. A month's rent. Being able to keep the lights on.

It can make all the difference for many college students struggling to stay in school during the COVID-19 lockdown.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It gives me a little more time," Paola Castro, 25, said of a $400 grant from Oakton Community College in Des Plaines without which she would have defaulted on a car payment.

Castro lost her job working in the kitchen at Golden Corral in Arlington Heights due to downsizing, forcing her to move in with her uncle in Des Plaines.

"I have a little bit of savings, so I think I'm going to be fine for another month. But after that, I really don't know what I'm going to do," said Castro, who is working on an associate degree in liberal arts at Oakton.

As suburban community colleges switch to online learning, they are offering students like Castro emergency relief to keep them from dropping out due to financial hardship. Many have established special funds supported by their foundations and community donations.

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"One of our initial fears and concerns was students wouldn't have the technology tools to continue their education (online)," said Katherine Sawyer, Oakton's chief advancement officer.

Oakton surveyed its more than 7,000 students enrolled in credit-bearing classes. Of about 1,000 responses, 12% of students said they needed a computer, access to the internet or both.

The Oakton Education Foundation put $50,000 into a Student Success Fund to cover the purchase of 200 Chromebooks loaned to students, while the college is making portable Wi-Fi hot spots available for internet access to remote classes. The foundation also is matching donations of up to $50,000 to the fund through Wednesday, April 15. Students can receive up to $500 in grants.

Elgin Community College's Emergency Student Relief Fund has collected roughly $38,450 in donations toward a $50,000 goal. The ECC Foundation provided $10,000 in seed money for the fund.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Money will be used for laptops, Wi-Fi access, and essentials, such as rent/mortgage, utilities, tuition and fees, books, groceries, child care and medical expenses, said David Davin, foundation executive director.

The foundation also is partnering with Food for Greater Elgin to provide students transportation to the food pantry or have food delivered.

"This fund is flexible, and if we think it will help them stay in school we will do it," Davin said. "We expect we are going to need about $50,000 for April."

Aside from loaning technology and Wi-Fi hot spots, Harper College in Palatine also is granting up to $500 to help students with groceries, rent, mortgage, medical expenses, and any other funding gaps.

Its education foundation has committed $50,000 to the Harper Student Emergency Relief Fund, along with a matching $50,000 from the college. The foundation raised an additional $44,530 for the fund.

"We have helped about 175 students so far but applications certainly continue to come in so we are hoping to grow that fund," college spokeswoman Kim Pohl said. "We know that the need is great. We have committed to paying our student workers through May 15."

Harper also offers a $1,000 Finish Line grant for students nearing degree completion. Nearly 110 students have been awarded about $102,000 so far.

College of Lake County's foundation has dedicated $140,000 for student relief, half funded through donations and matched by college resources. Funds will help students with technology, food and rental assistance, utility bills and purchasing cellphone minutes. The college also is offering students virtual counseling, psychological services, and advising, transfer and tutoring support.

Officials expect between 500 and 800 grant requests from the Grayslake college's roughly 12,000 full-time students and they are doling out funds for emergency needs on a first-come, first-served basis.

Community colleges should brace for an uptick in enrollment as the economy worsens and students can no longer afford four-year institutions, said Kurt Peterson, foundation executive director.

"We anticipate the scholarship need to be greater than ever before," Peterson said. "We continue to focus on the immediate with an eye toward the long-term."

Other community colleges:

• College of DuPage's COVID-19 Student Relief Fund has raised more than $7,000 with a donor offer to match up to $25,000 collected. Donations can be made at foundation.cod.edu/donate. Students will be awarded up to $500.

• Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove had $25,000 in an emergency needs fund before the coronavirus crisis began. It is offering a $10,000 match for new donations to waubonsee.edu/foundation.

• The Friends of McHenry County College Foundation is providing $1,000 grants for living expenses. The foundation aims to raise $40,000 in donations, which can be made at mchenry.edu/donate or by calling (815) 455-8721.

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