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Tuition breaks, emergency grants, and waived fees are all on the table as freshmen head to college

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Posted at 11:57 AM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-15 19:49:41-04

Adding to the long list of unknowns for college students heading off to campus, or not, in the next few weeks is exactly how much their college experience and education will cost.

Some schools are giving families a small break in tuition, others are reducing fees, while others still keep all those tuition and administrative costs right where they are.

For Matt Trottnow, the only thing that’s certain is that his freshman year at The University of Toledo is going to look different from what most would expect.

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Matt and Diane Trottnow show off a Toledo Rocket's mask as Matt prepares to go to campus for the fall semester. Five of his six classes are online and he'll attend in his dorm room.

“I’m going to campus, but five out of my six classes are remote, out of my dorm room,” said Trottnow.

“In June, we started to waiver on what’s the value of the remote classes,” said Matt’s mother, Diane.

She’s holding out hope that if coronavirus infection numbers drop off, some of Matt’s remote classes might move to a hybrid schedule, with some in-person components. It would help her justify not getting any break on tuition and paying for room and board.

“The pricing piece right now is so in flux,” said Kristina Dooley, Estrella Consulting Founder and President.

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"Paying for high profile speakers to come to campus, or concerts on campus, that's not happening," said Dooley. "I'm surprised colleges have not come out and said, 'We know this piece of it, we know we're not charging [activity fees]."

Dooley helps families navigate the college application and admissions process and she says she’s been hearing complaints like Diane’s a lot recently.

Some schools, like Princeton University, are cutting tuition costs, writing on its website that, “The University has approved a 10% discount to tuition for all undergraduate students during 2020-21, whether they are on campus or learning remotely. The discounted rate will be used to calculate financial aid packages for students eligible for aid.”

Other schools, like Harvard, are resisting any break in tuition.

Dooley says she’s surprised more universities haven’t already told students that fees to cover the cost of activities and special events will be waived, since those events likely won’t be happening.

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Even at schools that have announced their reopening plans, improvements or setbacks in COVID cases can change what the fall semester will look like.

“We can probably all assume that standard activities, even if students are going back to in-person instruction, activities are not happening,” said Dooley.

Dooley adds that whatever breaks students might find won’t be too large, because no matter how they ultimately do it, universities are still providing an education that needs to be paid for.

“You’re not paying for sitting in that lecture hall,” said Dooley. “You’re paying for the knowledge you’re getting from the faculty members and your peers and you’re still going to get that.”

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Colleges will keep charging full price or close it because they still have to pay faculty and provide an education. "Their degree won't have an asterisk on it," said Dooley.

Kent State University is not cutting its tuition but it did create the Kent State Emergency Grant Fund, helping students make ends meet during the pandemic.

“Within a matter of hours, we had hundreds of students applying,” said Kent State University Vice President for Enrollment Management Mary Parker.

Parker says the University has already awarded more than $6 million to more than 5,000 students with more money available and no deadline to apply for it as financial circumstances change.

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"The education this fall may look a little different than what it did last fall, but our primarily responsibility is to get them here and get them educated and to get their degree," said Parker.

One of the 5,000 students was senior Tom Bissler.

“I was out of work,” said Tom. “It helped me pay for bills, my car.”

Bissler says without the $3,000 he received, he wouldn’t have been able to pay tuition for his senior year without taking out student loans, which he’s worked hard to avoid for much of his time in college.

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Bissler got $3,000 from Kent State's Emergency Grant Fund, allowing him to take care of other expenses while he was out of work, allowing him to avoid taking out college loans for tuition.

“That was the one thing I didn’t want to do, was take out thousands of dollars in loans and then have to pay them back after I graduate,” said Bissler, who is studying to become a teacher after college, where starting salaries are around $30,000 per year.

Kent State University is welcoming students back on campus for the fall semester, with plans to have some classes online and some in-person. The final two weeks of the semester will be completely online after Thanksgiving.

For now, the only thing students like Bissler and Trottnow can do is prepare for a semester that will be constantly in flux, presenting hard choices to students trying to have the best and safest college experience they can.

“If you’re one of a small group of people who decide, ‘You know what, I’m going to stick to just me,’ that’s going to be challenging,” said Dooley, referring to adhering to the peer pressure to ignore social distancing guidelines on campus.

“If we follow the guidelines on the college campuses, that second semester or over winter break, we’re going to be able to do all those things that we want to do,” said Matt.

If you’re trying to figure out how to make college costs work for your family budget, experts recommend considering these steps:

  • Sort out your finances — make sure it makes sense to pay this much money right now. If it doesn’t, college will be there when you do have the funds for it.
  • Evaluate your and your family’s health — it might not make sense to go if you or someone you love is high-risk.
  • Ask for help — you might be directed to a program like Kent State’s Emergency Grant Fund or colleges can use their discretion to help you make college more affordable.

This story is part of The Rebound: Northeast Ohio, News 5's initiative to help people through the financial impact of the coronavirus by offering one place to go for information on everything available to help and how to access it. We're providing resources on:

Getting Back to Work - Learn about the latest job openings, how to file for benefits and succeed in the job market.

Making Ends Meet - Find help on topics from rent to food to new belt-tightening techniques.

Managing the Stress - Feeling isolated or frustrated? Learn ways to connect with people virtually, get counseling or manage your stress.

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