Ohio University’s Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships is continuing to help students who are experiencing financial hardships, especially due to COVID-19, as well as starting to plan scholarships and financial aid for incoming students. 

Many different options have been given to students to apply and receive more aid through OU. One pathway for admitted students is to fill out a Change of Income application. 

Students who have already filled out the 2020-21 FAFSA and have experienced a reduction of income — either because of COVID-19 or another reason — can fill out the Change of Income application to receive more aid. If a family fills out this application and it is determined their 2020 income shows a reduction, their FAFSA will be updated and OU will review financial aid eligibility.

Usually, this application comes out in March for the next school year. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial aid office at OU has started priority processing of applications for COVID-19 related circumstances due to a significant increase in applications. 

“While our Change of Income Review process was already in place to address those types of situations, we have seen the volume of requests increase, and we have reallocated staffing resources to assure timely review of records,” Candace Boeninger, interim vice provost for strategic enrollment management, said in an email. 

In addition to this process, the financial aid office is working to help all students who need financial assistance. 

One of the office’s major tasks was distributing the $9.7 million allocated to OU through the CARES Act and Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, where 50% of those funds must be used to provide emergency financial aid grants to students. OU also allocated $5 million for students' financial needs as a result of the pandemic.

Current OU students can now apply for additional funds using the Continuing Student Scholarship Application, which is open until Feb. 1, 2021 for Athens campus students.

When incoming students apply to OU by the Early Action deadline of Nov. 15, they are automatically considered for freshmen scholarships. However, the specific amounts and names of these scholarships have not been released yet. One reason for this is because it is still early in the application process for many students, as the early action deadline for OU has not passed and the rolling admission deadline is not until Feb. 1, 2021. 

“Generally you have the application process then the scholarship process,” Chad Springer, principal of Athens High School said. “Right now, we're still in the application process. And then some people, since we're past the Oct. 1 deadline and Nov. 1 coming up, some students are moving into the scholarship application, but it's really kind of early.” 

Despite it still being early, because of COVID-19 and the economic downturn following it, many families are looking more at the return of investment when thinking about colleges.

“People are a lot more open, putting a lot more weight on price and putting a lot more weight on value,” Mark Salisbury, CEO and co-founder of TuitionFit, a company designed to help families paying for college by giving them more information about financial aid, said. “And you'll see more colleges and universities trying to entice people with better arguments about why they're worth the money that they're asking people to pay.”

Even though schools want to entice students to attend their college through scholarships, the economic downturn hit schools and institutions especially hard. 

“The public would love to have a better price and colleges aren't really in a position to discount all that much because we're already running a tight margin business,” Salisbury said. 

Even outside scholarships may start to have some challenges, as some scholarships start with an initial investment in the stock market with interest that grows over time. This may be hard for students, as even OU encourages students to look at outside scholarships. 

“A lot of scholarship money is based on growth in the financial market,” Springer said. “So I don't know how much of an impact you will see this year. But if you think of a three-year trend because of the stock market, decreasing from the COVID-19 pandemic, and if it continues on slow growth, I think long term, you're going to see a decrease in the monetary value of scholarships, just because … quite a few bases it off of that growth over time.”

Many scholarships are up in the air, including OU’s scholarships for incoming students, which they are currently designing. One thing recommended by the financial aid office for both incoming and current who are looking for financial aid is to make sure to fill out the FAFSA for the 2021-2022 academic year. The FAFSA must be received by Jan. 15, 2021 to be eligible for all possible aid. 

“We will continue to offer a generous set of institutional scholarships and grants that recognize both academic merit and financial need,” Boeninger said in an email. “To be considered for need-based financial assistance at OHIO, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is available now for the 2021-2022 academic year.”