The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges for our world, university and peers. Against the backdrop of an emerging economic recession and widespread unemployment, many Tufts students and families will experience financial hardship. Students that did not qualify for financial aid prior to the crisis could have need in the near future, and those currently receiving aid may face holes in financial support while not on campus. Further, access to academic resources is extremely limited while confined to our homes, with cost-saving alternatives, such as selling back books to the Tufts Community Union Textbook Exchange, not available at the moment. Even after students can safely return to campus, the effects of the crisis will linger; some students may no longer be able to afford tuition, living, academic or travel costs.
The university has already taken commendable measures to provide financial support to students affected by the crisis. On March 26, the administration announced in an email that it would still pay students who receive work-study funding for regular hours until May 8, regardless of their ability to continue working remotely.
However, it’s not only students who face severe financial implications as a result of the pandemic: on April 16, University President Anthony Monaco told the Tufts community that the administration expects an estimated $15 million loss due to COVID-19. Despite these financial concerns and uncertainty surrounding academic plans for the future, Monaco assured students that the university’s commitment to “full financial need” will not waver. In fulfilling this pledge, Tufts must take into consideration the various ways in which students will experience financial vulnerability during this crisis, both on and off campus.
The ever-increasing cost of tuition will also provide one of the most pressing areas of concern for students entering precarious financial situations. If Tufts continues to increase cost of attendance in upcoming years, perhaps to account for decreases in the endowment and funding, many students with changed financial situations may no longer be able to afford tuition. As Tufts seeks a sustainable financial solution that balances institutional and student needs, it must avoid recuperating costs through tuition increases. To promote values of academic inclusivity and ensure accessibility to a Tufts education, the university must position itself on a trajectory to freeze tuition costs for each class year as well as promptly readjust financial aid plans for those needing support coming out of the economic crisis.
Even for students covered by financial aid, unprecedented challenges may arise over the summer and beyond. Although the university continues to pay students work-study through the end of the spring term, those unable to work summer jobs will lose needed funds for college expenses. Beyond the summer, if classes resume online, students with financial aid may no longer receive support for dining or living costs, and work-study options will likely be limited. This loss of supplementary financial assistance would adversely affect families and could even jeopardize students’ abilities to engage with academics. In the coming months, the university must provide additional financial support for those facing this loss of income or financial assistance provided on campus.
In addition, Tufts must reduce barriers to academic resources and promote greater accessibility. For some students, the cost of acquiring textbooks and other academic resources in the upcoming semesters will pose a significant financial burden. However, the existence of free, viable alternatives to textbooks, such as scanned versions of course readings, lessens the impact of these exorbitant fees. As such, even when we return to in-person classes, professors should continue to select and promote more cost-efficient course materials to prioritize students’ needs and alleviate financial strain.
For Tufts’ large international population, these challenges are further compounded by high travel costs and barriers to international travel. Further, as the university plans for future semesters in the midst of pervasive uncertainty, it is critical that it takes into account both the potential ethical and financial costs of travel that might arise for international students.
This action proves important given the immediate financial impacts of this global crisis and the inevitable complicated process of rebuilding our community. To uphold values of academic continuity and full financial need during this crisis, Tufts must adapt to these new financial challenges by implementing the financial and institutional measures necessary to support those most affected by this crisis. Only by doing so can the Tufts community come out of this crisis united through empathy and resilience.