Keeping the door open for students hampered by COVID-19

UND Alumni Association & Foundation establishes scholarships to help students overcome COVID-induced financial hardship

To help the growing number of students in need of monetary support due to the coronavirus pandemic, the University Alumni Association and Foundation (AA&F) has created two new scholarships, the Angel Fund and the Open Door Scholarship. UND archival image.

Having shuttered businesses and pushed millions of Americans out of jobs, the coronavirus pandemic has eroded the budgets of students and their families across the U.S. As the fall semester rapidly nears, scores of students may not be able to afford a return to their university campuses.

According to a recent survey by OneClass that includes 10,000 students from more than 200 U.S. colleges and universities, a staggering 56% of those polled said they can no longer pay tuition and are seeking various funding options. Nearly 7% told OneClass they have to drop out due the financial blow incurred by COVID-19.

Compared to its national peers, the University of North Dakota is a rather affordable institution. Yet, this does not mean that none of UND’s roughly 13,500 students are struggling financially, especially during this uncharted time that has stolen many summer jobs and internships.

“There are families trying to fill their basic needs right now, so some see education as a luxury, not a necessity,” said Janelle Kilgore, UND’s vice provost of strategic enrollment management.

As of June, Kilgore’s office found that 8% of UND’s returning undergraduate students were yet to enroll for classes in the fall. Meanwhile, One-Stop Student Services, which provides assistance with various aspects of attending the University, is now averaging 50 calls a day from students and their families seeking guidance on financial aid. About a fifth of all students have outstanding tuition balances.

To help the growing number of students in need of monetary support due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UND Alumni Association and Foundation (AA&F) has created two new scholarships.

“For students who would normally come back to school, if they don’t have the money and their parents don’t have the money, it’s hard,” said DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of AA&F. “Creating these scholarships helps them get that degree.”

Open Door Scholarship

The Open Door Scholarship provides tuition assistance to undergraduate, graduate as well as professional programs. AA&F has earmarked $300,000 and is now seeking as much in gifts for the scholarship. About $100,000 has already been committed.

“The Open Door Scholarship can literally change the course of a student’s life,” said Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Debbie Storrs. “We know more and more students are impacted by unemployment, whether their own job loss or their family’s, and the scholarship can make a difference in their ability to pursue their academic dreams.”

The Open Door Scholarship will help students in situations similar to that of a mechanical engineering major, who this spring still owed $2,500 on his fall tuition. With no resources, the student was to leave UND, a mere semester away from graduating. But then, Brian Tande, dean of the College of Engineering & Mines, awarded the student a $1,000 scholarship that helped him finish his studies on time.

AA&F is asking donors to consider contributing $1,000, the average amount of a single scholarship. This is what Storrs and her husband recently did. “When we heard about the Open Door Scholarship, my husband and I decided to fund one in recognition of student needs and our commitment to paving a pathway for their success,” she said. “Students who receive such scholarships can focus on their academics rather than worry about how they will pay for their education.”

 The Angel Fund

While the Open Door Scholarship can help with tuition, the UND Angel Fund, the second scholarship which AA&F administers jointly with the Division of Student Affairs & Diverisity, offers funds for any other expenses such as medical bills and food purchases.

Although as a concept the Angel Fund goes back some 40 years, with former Vice President for Student Affairs Gordon Henry rallying colleagues to help a student attend the funeral of a sibling, the scholarship was officially established this January. Its creation has substantially grown the non-tuition monies available to students grappling with life’s challenges, a mission that, for decades, has seen faculty and staff members creatively pull together various funding opportunities in order to help.

In its six months, through the end of June, the Angel Fund has distributed about $115,000 to nearly 170 students. (It has meanwhile raised $155,000.)With the viral outbreak, the importance of the fund has only grown. The Division of Student Affairs & Diversity is receiving at least one application a day now, many submitted by international students who are ineligible for financial assistance through the federal CARES Act.

“The UND Angel Fund is what the University is all about,” said Cara Halgren, Vice President for Student Affairs & Diversity and Dean of Students. “For many, UND is a home away from home and our students, alumni, faculty and staff are like a family. The UND Angel Fund is just one more example of the UND Family working to support and care for others in our family.”

One UND junior, who also earned acceptance into the University’s Medical Laboratory Science program last month, felt that familial care first hand, when the pandemic scrapped her employment plans this summer.

With a compromised immune system due to a chronic medical condition that requires on-going treatment, the student, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject, was unable to keep working at a nursing home. Yet, the student had to pay for regular trips to the doctor, while also taking a couple of summer classes.

The support the student received through the Angel Fund has covered a portion of the medical costs, “greatly reducing my stress level.”

“With the chronic medical condition and compromised immune system my immediate need is to continue to navigate the medical system and make sure I can pay for treatments so that I am well enough to focus on completing my degree,” the student said. “That degree is critical for me to help others through the medical profession as well as helping me secure a job in the future.”

Those interested in supporting UND students, can donate on the Open Door Scholarship or the Angel Fund web pages.