Illustration of 5 hands holding blue puzzle pieces that form the shape of a heart

GVSU gives refunds, grants scholarships, distributes hardship funds to support students

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Jobs lost. Bills due. No end in sight.

The financial effects of COVID-19 hit many students hard and fast as they abruptly left campus in mid-March to return home for what would turn out to be the remainder of the semester.

Drawing of a magnifying glass showing a missing puzzle piece

In a matter of days, thousands of students and their family members lost their jobs as bills came due and the coronavirus continued to spread throughout West Michigan and in the cities they call home.

President Philomena V. Mantella said while navigating the challenges brought on by COVID-19, Grand Valley would lead with its values — being student centered. 

“We are aware of students’ shifting financial situations and we are ready to help with any hardship they are facing,” she said. 

Mantella and members of the Senior Leadership Team took early action, making several swift decisions to immediately support students, including a March 11 announcement that all students would receive prorated refunds for housing, dining and parking charges.

Michelle Rhodes, associate vice president for Financial Aid, said another key decision by the university was to make sure there was a process for all student employees to continue to be paid. Some students were awarded scholarships and some continued to get paid through federal dollars.

“Grand Valley made the decision to allow students to request hardship funds for their wages to be paid in the form of a scholarship,” said Rhodes. “More than 1,000 students applied to get that scholarship.” 

Grand Valley made the switch to remote learning on March 16 after a four-day transition period. As a way to relieve stress for students learning under those new conditions, university leaders decided a student’s GPA would no longer be a part of the renewal criteria for merit scholarships. Students just need to show they are advancing toward a degree.

A push was made to university supporters to consider giving to the Student Support Fund, which is designed to help students who experience an unusual or extreme financial event that could keep them from earning their degree.

As of May 31, the fund had received more than $193,000 in gifts and pledges from more than 450 donors.

Grand Valley was granted $9 million in the first installment from the federal CARES Act for students experiencing a financial hardship as a result of COVID-19. More than 6,000 students applied for the funds.

Rhodes said the university was able to meet individual needs ranging from one student who was in tears after receiving $50 for gas money to get home to a student who needed help paying rent and utility bills.

“We were able to immediately do whatever we needed to do to help students,” said Rhodes. “It’s just the Grand Valley way. Even though we have thousands and thousands of students, we wanted to make sure we understood the students’ needs and the situations they were facing through this time.” 

Rhodes said while pouring over the applications, she and her staff members were moved by the students’ compassion for others. 

“Our students are very gracious and they understand that everyone is facing challenging times,” she said. “In their requests, many would say, ‘I would be grateful for anything you can give me, I know there are students in worse situations, but here is my story.’”

“All applicants accepted to GVSU by December 31 will be considered for merit-based financial aid, regardless of whether or not test scores are submitted with the application.”

Jodi Chycinski, associate vice president and director of Admissions
Tim Syfert sits in front of his laptop and helps student with online advising
Tim Syfert, senior clinical faculty in the Seidman College of Business, works with a student during a one-on-one remote advising session. (Kendra Stanley-Mills)

Campus tours, admissions appointments go virtual

Michigan’s Stay at Home order meant some creative changes for Grand Valley’s Admissions office.

Part of the excitement for first-year students is to visit campus, take a tour and meet with an admissions counselor. Those services needed to be offered in a new way.

Jodi Chycinski, associate vice president and director of Admissions, said advising and registration sessions for Fall 2020 were held online through individual video-conference appointments. 

A smartphone shows the GVSU Virtual tour

Students unable to visit campus were able to utilize virtual and video tours. (Amanda Pitts)

“Incoming students could sign up for a one-on-one virtual appointment with a professional advisor rather than our usual large orientation gathering,” said Chycinski.

New and prospective students had two options for campus tours. Virtual tours of the Allendale, Pew Grand Rapids, and Health campuses were created as well as videos that feature a student tour guide who highlights popular spots on the Allendale Campus while answering frequently asked questions.

In an effort to reduce hardship and barriers for prospective students, Grand Valley announced in April it would go “test-optional” for students applying for fall 2021. That means SAT and ACT standardized tests will not be required for students applying to enter in fall 2021.

“During this time of uncertainty, we want to remove stress and respond to the needs of prospective students,” said President Philomena V. Mantella. “We want to take worry off the table.”

Chycinski said all applicants accepted to GVSU by December 31 will be considered for merit-based financial aid, regardless of whether or not test scores are submitted with the application.