Higher education institutions issuing refunds to help relieve COVID-19 financial burden

Updated: Apr. 9, 2020 at 1:38 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Colleges and Universities in South Carolina are expecting to lose millions of dollars because of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, student refunds for meal plans, parking and housing and other losses in revenue could cost public and private higher education institutions in South Carolina could see up to $220 million in financial losses.

“I think higher education in South Carolina, and across the country, are just really scrambling to adjust and adapt to what is a rapidly changing environment,” Commission on Higher Education President and Executive Director Dr. Rusty Monhollon said. “There are a lot of moving pieces and a lot of uncertainty.”

Monhollon said the $220 million dollar estimate in financial losses, however, is only through the end of the semester.

“It’s not really taking into account looking into the summer and fall and what some of the potential impacts could be over those terms,” Monhollon said.

Monhollon said colleges and universities in South Carolina will get some help because of the Education Stabilization Fund. Monhollon said higher education in South Carolina can expect about to see about $185 million.

“I think most experts agree that it’s not enough to fully meet the cost that higher education is going to incur over the next several months,” Monhollon said. “But I think, certainly, all institutions will be grateful for it.

The American Council on Education has released estimates on their website:

  • Charleston Southern University: $3,352,000
  • Citadel Military College of South Carolina: $2,683,000
  • College of Charleston: $8,025,000
  • Medical University of South Carolina: $608,000

For a full list of all estimates for all schools in South Carolina, click or tap here.

“We are still awaiting guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on exactly how that money can be allocated and for what purposes,” Monhollon said.

Monhollon added they are hoping to learn by the end of the week how that money can be used. And they are hoping the dollars will start coming to South Carolina by the end of April.

Despite those losses, higher education institutions are doing what they can to relieve some of the financial burden on their students. Most universities and colleges have announced students will be getting refunds to fees in relation to on-campus housing and more, depending on the institution.

Charleston Southern University announced Monday to its campus community that all currently registered residential students will receive a prorated board rebate for the spring 2020 semester. The credit will be calculated based on actual food service costs eliminated from the date the student vacated the residence hall—in most cases, March 16.

Credits for students who received financial aid awards to cover room and board charges will be reduced by the amount of those awards. The rebate will be applied first to any outstanding student account balances and remaining credit balances will be applied to the next academic term. Graduating seniors will receive a check for any remaining credit balance.

“It is still early in a very fluid situation, but at this point in time, Charleston Southern University is offering only board rebates to our residential students,” Charleston Southern University officials said in a statement. “We will not be able to consider a prorated room rebate until we receive further clarification from the government on federal stimulus funds for universities.”

Officials with CSU added that housing is an essential part of operating revenue, especially so for private institutions.

“We were, and are, acutely aware of the financial burden the pandemic has placed on our campus community, and our team quickly worked on a plan to provide rebates for board,” the statement read. “Aramark, our food service provider, was generous enough to reduce their billings to the university for the remainder of the semester, and we will pass those savings along to our students.

It has not yet been determined when board rebates and any resulting refund checks will be available. CSU leaders are working to process them as quickly as possible but it will likely be several weeks before checks will be sent to graduating seniors.

CSU has also established a COVID-19 Emergency Student Care Fund where generous donors have already begun to assist students in need during this pandemic. More information on that can be found here:

The College of Charleston announced back in April they have developed a process through which students will receive refunds to fees in relation to on-campus housing, meal prep and parking.

According to the college, refunds will be calculated based on a prorated daily rate beginning when the college moved to online classes the week after spring break.

Guidelines for refunds include:

  • Only students who remain enrolled for the remainder of the semester are eligible for a refund. The suspension of in-person instruction does not change the student’s enrollment status for billing, financial aid and/or reporting purposes.
  • Students who were granted an exemption to be allowed to remain on campus for the remainder of the semester will not be eligible for a housing or meal plan refund.
  • Refunds will first be applied to any remaining current charges.

Refunds will look different for each student depending on their financial arrangement with the college and will be processed by the College of Charleston over the next two weeks and will be posted to each student’s MyCharleston account.

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