Colleges Provide Tuition Relief To Furloughed Workers
Reanna Robinson's life this spring is pretty hectic. She works full-time as a TSA officer at Reagan National Airport, she's raising her 1-year-old daughter, and she's taking five college classes on her way to a degree in criminal justice.
On top of all that, she's dealing with more financial pressure than usual. That's because, as an essential worker during a government shutdown that has stretched to 31 days, she's still reporting for work but not getting a paycheck.
"It's very stressful," she says. "It kind of takes a mental toll on you."
Initially, she planned to pay for spring classes at the College of Southern Maryland out of pocket, assuming that the shutdown would end by the time tuition was due in mid-January. But the shutdown hadn't ended when she logged on to register for spring classes and pay her first tuition bill.
"I was like, I really can't afford it," she says. She considered dropping some classes to save money.
But an announcement on the school's website caught her eye.
Turns out, administrators at the College of Southern Maryland anticipated that many of their students were in Robinson's position.
In early January, the school enacted a temporary policy that alleviates the financial strain on furloughed students and students who are dependents of furloughed workers. The original tuition payment deadline, January 9th, was deferred until later this spring, according to Karen Smith-Hupp, the college's spokesperson.
This option, she says, is popular with students who expect back pay once the shutdown ends but for now "are looking to push that payment for spring semester out as far as they can." Students who do not anticipate back pay can apply for a one-time emergency grant, paid for by the college's fundraising foundation, on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Maryland is home to more than 42,000 federal workers who are going without pay due to the shutdown. The College of Southern Maryland isn't sure how many students are impacted, but said around a hundred people have taken advantage of the policy.
Other colleges in Maryland have also stepped up to help students who are furloughed or dependents of furloughed workers. In Largo, Md., for example, Prince George's Community College announced it would provide tuition assistance for impacted students. And at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Md., the school pushed its spring payment deadline back and says it will handle further student concerns on a case-by-case basis.
Being a furloughed worker and going without pay can be really challenging, says Tara Carew, who heads the financial aid department at Anne Arundel. "But when you're also trying to make [tuition] payments, it ... seems to hurt twice as hard."
It's unclear when the government shutdown will end – all eyes are on Congress and the White House. Democrats and Republicans are slowly getting to a resolution, and a vote on the most recent proposal by the president is expected this week.
Last week, President Trump signed a bill that ensured back pay for all furloughed workers once the shutdown ends. That bill doesn't include federal contractors, though some senators are working on legislation to fix that.
At Southern Maryland, Robinson chose to have her tuition deadline deferred. Late spring, she says, gives her "more than enough time" to get her finances in order, although she still has worries. She's taken on a side job retrieving scooters for local scooter operators.
"School is my first priority," she says, "[but] I still need to work to provide for my daughter and myself."
Classes started this week, and Robinson says they're good so far.
"Books are expensive, as usual," she says, but she's determined to finish school.