Home > News > News Archive > 2021 > Emergency funds help students during times of crisis

Emergency funds help students during times of crisis

November 9, 2021

Felisa Higgins (400p)
Felisa Higgins, associate dean for undergraduate education, said that while it is sometimes challenging to identify students in need, it is vital that the college is positioned to help students when obstacles are placed in their path.
By Anne Louise Cropp

A family-owned business that shut down in the early days of the pandemic. Parents that found themselves out of work when their employer relocated to another part of the country.

These are just two of the ways Smeal College of Business students have suddenly found themselves without financial support from their families as they worked toward their college degree.

Luckily, Smeal’s undergraduate advising team, led by Felisa Higgins, associate dean for undergraduate education, was able to draw on existing scholarships and other philanthropic gifts to close the gap, ensuring these students could continue their Penn State education.

According to Higgins, student need is not always precipitated by such a dramatic event.

Each semester, as Higgins and her team review students’ class schedules, they discover a number of students who were unable to fill their schedule because of an outstanding bursar’s balance.

“In many situations where we have identified need in this particular manner, we’ve been able to help the students not only take care of their balances, but also help them schedule their courses and complete their studies. This would not be possible without emergency funds from the dean and from our generous alumni,” Higgins said.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic “took things to a whole new level.”

For her, one of the most important lessons to come out of the pandemic is that students’ circumstances can change suddenly and unexpectedly.

Students who relied on part-time jobs at local restaurants and shops no longer had money for rent, food and other basic necessities after their employers temporarily closed their doors. Students staying with their parents did not always have access to a computer or reliable internet.

“We heard stories about students taking classes in parking lots so they had access to free Wi-Fi or taking exams on their cell phone because they didn’t have access to a laptop,” Higgins said. “The University was able to help some students, but the reality is that not everyone had equal access to resources. That’s where philanthropy can make a difference.”

Long-term donors to the college who wish to remain anonymous agreed.

Earlier this year, they created a $25,000 student care and emergency fund—the first donor-supported fund at Smeal that will provide short-term financial assistance to students in times of need.

“Although the amounts awarded to individual students from these types of funds are rarely large in size, their impact can be immeasurable,” said Michelle Houser, senior director of development and alumni relations. “Often, just a few hundred dollars are all that it takes for a student to stay in school and complete their degree.”

Higgins said that while it is sometimes challenging to identify students in need, it is vital that the college is positioned to help students when obstacles are placed in their path.

“There is no question we are living in challenging times,” Higgins said. “We live in a world that is globally connected and that is continually evolving with emerging technologies. We need to ensure that we are providing our students with relevant and timely education. But we also need to ensure that they have the resources they need to be successful.

“No student should have to go hungry, not have a safe place to sleep at night or access to basic medical care, and I feel fortunate to belong to a community that shares this belief.”

News
Media Contact

Andy Elder
Public Relations Specialist
814-863-3798
mediarelations@smeal.psu.edu