Old Dominion University (ODU) is canceling any unpaid balance its students incurred in the spring 2021 semester. Vice President for Student Engagement and Enrollment Services Donald Stansberry said that an outstanding balance blocks students from receiving diplomas or registering for fall classes.
“Old Dominion is committed to helping our students reach their academic potential,” Stansberry (pictured above) said in a press release. “At a time when many families are facing financial stress because of the pandemic, these CARES Act funds will help eliminate significant roadblocks so students can continue on their academic journeys.”
ODU will use Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) from the CARES act to cover the debts. Congress has sent three rounds of HEERF funding, totaling about $74.8 billion, as part of the CARES Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, and the American Rescue Plan Act(ARPA). HEERF funds were portioned into multiple programs, including providing relief grants to students, all Title IV schools, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities, and some other types of higher education organizations. Any institution receiving funds is required to file annual performance reports.
ODU has previously given grants to students with HEERF funds, but many of those grants had additional requirements. ODU’s Spring 2021 debt forgiveness applies to all students enrolled in spring 2021, and applies to any account balance as of 5 p.m. August 10. It does not cover loans owed to outside vendors.
Discharging debt is one of the uses for HEERF funds from ARPA recommended by the U.S. Department of Education in May as a way to support retention and re-engagement of students. Other recommended uses include emergency grants to students with exceptional needs, and using the funds to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through testing and vaccination outreach.
“These funds are critical to ensuring that all of our nation’s students – particularly those disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic – have the opportunity to enroll, continue their education, graduate, and pursue their careers,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in the announcement of the third round of HEERF funding. “With this action, thousands of institutions will be able to provide direct relief to students who need it most, so we can make sure that we not only recover from the pandemic, but also build back even stronger than before.
Stansberry said, “This one-time assistance aligns with our objective to promote social mobility, benefiting not just our graduates but future generations.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photos “Don Stansberry” by Old Dominion University and “ODU Student Recreation Center” by Cmett003 (CC BY-SA 4.0).