As we enter the end of the spring semester and seven weeks of profound changes affecting our daily lives, we would like to pause briefly to once again thank each of you for your collective hard work, patience and commitment. The coronavirus pandemic is a frightening time in our lives, and we are very proud of how our students have responded to all of the new challenges you are facing.
We’d also like to acknowledge that the pandemic is impacting some of our Spartan students and families harder and in different ways. Here in Michigan and in other states, minority and marginalized groups become even more vulnerable in emergencies such as a health pandemic, including lost employment and income, illness and, for some, loss of loved ones. We urge you all to continue supporting one another, to think about how some members of our Spartan family are affected differently than your own experience.
In addition to all of the above, for some of you, the pandemic has brought on financial hardships. Earlier this month, Congress approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which established the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). MSU will receive approximately $30 million from the HEERF over the coming months, about $15 million of which will be used to provide emergency financial aid grants to our students. These grants will be called “MSU CARES4Students,” and will be made directly to students for the expenses related to the novel coronavirus. Such expenses include food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and child care.
We are grateful for this funding and the ability to help our students. While MSU hasn’t received the funds yet, we have been working on the MSU CARES4Students grant application process so that once we receive the money, we can more quickly provide a measure of financial relief to our students who need it most. Our goal is to get help to students so that you can continue your studies with some peace of mind. The grant application will reside in StuInfo. You can access it there directly or from the Office of Financial Aid website or the MSU coronavirus website.
Unfortunately, the Department of Education put restrictions in place that prohibit MSU from making emergency financial aid grants to students who are ineligible to file FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Any student who has not filed FAFSA but previously applied to the Support Our Spartans Fund, administered by MSU Student Affairs, can be considered, and we will make every effort to prioritize those applications. All MSU students deserve our support during this time, and we’re working hard to provide emergency finances.
In addition to financial strains, we know the pandemic is also straining your emotional and mental well-being. Mental health is just as important as physical health and we encourage students to seek the support they need. MSU’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) continues to offer counseling services remotely to meet the needs of Spartan students. In addition, the state of Michigan has set up free support to address this time of high anxiety and stress.
Tuition Freeze Continues
If you did not see the recent notice, the university did announce that we will not be increasing tuition for the 2020-2021 academic year. The rates used for the last two school years will stay in place for a third consecutive year. In freezing tuition rates for the upcoming academic year, we are doing what we can to ensure students can stay in our Spartan family. The core of a land-grant university’s mission is to provide access to quality, affordable education for all — no matter the challenges.
We also announced this week that the university will hold a virtual commencement celebration May 16 for all undergraduate and graduate students earning degrees at the end of the 2020 spring semester. We had previously postponed the May in-person commencement. While we are holding a virtual commencement event, we also still intend to welcome 2020 graduates to a future in-person commencement. From a public health standpoint, it’s still not safe to hold a traditional ceremony at this time, but the class of 2020 still deserves to celebrate graduation. It’s a momentous occasion.
The virtual ceremony will be streamed on MSU’s Facebook page beginning at 10 a.m. EDT on May 16. Members of the class of 2020, their friends, families and Spartans everywhere are invited to gather online and make this the largest MSU commencement ever.
We have not established an exact date for when we will welcome our faculty, staff and students back to campus, and we know that might be frustrating for many of you. And as much as we would like to see everyone back on campus, we are on the virus’s timeline to a significant degree. Any decision we make will be grounded in the best available data and what is best for the health and safety of our Spartan community — just as we have been doing. To help assess that, we have appointed a task force to research MSU’s return to campus options and to put contingency recommendations in place as we make decisions. This effort will be led by Dr. Norman Beauchamp, Executive Vice President for Health Sciences, and Dr. David Weismantel, University Physician. We thank you for your continued patience on this matter.
We wish you well in your final exams this week. As you head out into your careers, internships, summer classes or taking time off this summer, we wish you health and safety. We are proud of the Spartan spirit you each possess and the will to make this world a better place.
Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.