Donors Help Students During COVID 19 Pandemic
University Strives to Keep Students on Track with Their Degrees
As the University of Mississippi prepares for the fall semester, administrators and financial aid officers are acutely aware that many members of the Ole Miss family continue to struggle due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
To help serve the needs of students, their families and the university community, Ole Miss has hosted two fundraising events. A swift $200,000 response to Rebel Aid came from donors who supported urgent needs related to pandemic closures, both on campus and off.
For Rebel Aid 2, June 16-17, organizers’ goals were to help ensure that every UM student has a chance to enroll, stay healthy on campus and receive the services and assistance they need to continue their educational pursuits. Donors added almost $22,000 more in gifts.
The first event in April received an enthusiastic response from donors who supported urgent needs related to pandemic closures, both on campus and off. For the second event, organizers’ goals were to help ensure that every UM student has a chance to enroll, stay healthy on campus and receive the services and assistance they need to continue their educational pursuits.
“Our number one priority is making sure every student who wants to be here in the fall is able to do so,” said Larry Sparks, vice chancellor for Administration and Finance. “We have students who were financially secure in February who are unable to afford their total tuition and fees for the fall. They have parents who lost jobs, or were small business owners who have taken a severe hit.
“Their need is temporary; they just need help getting over the hump. We don’t want these students to fall through the cracks.”
To help those students, donors had an opportunity to contribute to the new Rebel Retention Fund, which will give small grants to students in good academic standing to clear the balance on their accounts and keep them enrolled.
“We know from experience that students who intend to take a temporary leave from college, especially because of financial stress, often have a very hard time coming back,” Sparks said. “Just $200 or $100 can make the difference in a student completing their education.”
Funds raised through Rebel Aid 2 are also addressing alumni and student needs through new Career Center projects aimed at helping graduates of all ages navigate the worst job market most of them have ever faced. A new, user-friendly software platform for student, alumni and employer access was already in the works, but Career Center Director Toni Avant said the project has much more urgency now.
At the same time, traditional Career Center events like the Engineering Career Fair, All Majors Career Expo and the Graduate/Professionals Schools Fair can no longer happen in person and must move to a virtual format.
These technological upgrades come at a cost, but in the end will provide even greater opportunities for students and alumni than was available before, Avant said.
“These upgrades will allow the Career Center to maintain and advance the services it offers, to expand its reach beyond our current employer partners, and empower employers, students and alumni who want to connect with one another,” Avant said. “The dollars raised during Rebel Aid will have a huge impact by making our resources and services more accessible to students and alumni alike.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic first hit Mississippi in March, donors have contributed to projects designated to respond to students in crisis and support University Health Services. Since that time, students have applied for and received nearly all the money raised in this effort and for the Christopher C. Holman Student Emergency Fund.
In addition, eligible students in need received more than $6.5 million in aid from the federal government through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act. “We’ve been able to assist almost 4,000 students,” said Financial Aid director Laura Diven-Brown. “But there are many more requests out there than available funds, unfortunately.”
Diven-Brown said federal regulations on the disbursement of CARES assistance means many students do not qualify, even students in great need. Her staff depends on the Rebel Relief fund, the Student Emergency Fund, the Ole Miss Food Bank and now, the Rebel Retention fund, to fill in those gaps.
To help bring Ole Miss students back to campus in the fall and support them as they pursue an education, Diven-Brown said these funds must be replenished.
The Food Bank – a resource for all members of the university community – has seen unprecedented demand. In six weeks through March and April 2020, the Food Bank provided 2,500 meals, double the normal demand seen in an entire semester. The demand has not abated much over the summer and is expected to increase exponentially when students return.
Charlotte Fant Pegues, interim vice chancellor for Student Affairs, said the commitment to seeing Ole Miss students thrive has never been stronger and encouraged alumni and friends to join the effort.
“Just like people everywhere, our students are grappling with an unknown future and have many needs,” the vice chancellor said. “No matter what the coming months hold, our university’s priority is helping students have the resources and preparation necessary to enjoy meaningful careers and lives.”
University Health Services, a resource for students, faculty and staff, is also preparing for increased demand in the fall by purchasing additional personal protective equipment (PPE), coronavirus testing kits and supplies. Like all health clinics and hospitals, University Health Services has stepped up safety protocols during the pandemic, Pegues said.
By Angela Atkins