At Frank, students come first. Period.
When COVID first hit, thousands of students across the country simply could not afford to leave their dorms or eat, let alone study. They lost their jobs, had their hours cut back, and were furloughed. In addition, some colleges didn’t refund students for their room and board fees, forcing many students to incur out of pocket expenses that surpassed the amount of money in their bank account. As if the $1.6TN of student debt wasn’t enough, students now had to add new insurmountable credit card debt, too.
Thankfully, the government passed the CARES Act, which awarded $14BN in HEERF grants to colleges, half of which were meant to be directly disbursed to students.
Almost a month after the funds had been granted, however, less than 30% of colleges had applied for the grants available and less than 1% of the funds were disbursed to students, according to Politico. This was during the same time when the PPP program had already gone through two cycles of disbursements to small businesses… So, what was going on?
Naturally, the Frank team shared in the frustration and despair of its students. Even though colleges struggled with a lack of guidance from the Department of Education, the outcome was still clear: schools delayed funds to students. Once again, our broken system had failed students.
We decided to act.
Since there was no common application for students to receive their funds and each school sets a different process, Frank saw an opportunity to help students advocate for themselves. There were two ways these students could get more financial assistance: they could qualify for a CARES Act grant or they could qualify for extra funds from their financial aid office due to special circumstances in their lives (and some students could qualify for both). This latter option is called an “aid appeal,” and it’s something that Frank pioneered years ago.
Most importantly, students needed to be aware of the possibility for aid and they needed to ask for it. Despite the availability of CARES Act grants, thousands of students didn’t even know they existed. What’s more, many schools still weren’t distributing the money meant for students. We surveyed the Big 10 Schools and over 100 colleges who received over $5MM of grants to disburse directly to students, and the results clearly indicate that students are not receiving the funds they need.
Schools have withheld almost $500MM of grants to students of the $1BN we surveyed. We believe this is the tip of the iceberg, as smaller schools we surveyed seem to be much slower to react.
It is clear that students needed to be informed that there was aid available to them and we wanted to help them get it. So we created a free, simple process for students to request assistance from their schools. We made ONE Frank application that takes an average of 3 minutes to complete. The application generates a letter requesting either a CARES Act grant or an aid appeal based on the answers a student gives. Students who have incurred COVID-related expenses due to campus closures and have filed a FAFSA® are eligible for the CARES Act grant, while other students who lost their incomes can receive help by appealing their aid package. All schools we surveyed requested that students reach out by email if they had special circumstances and did not qualify for the CARES funding and all but a handful of colleges still had applications open.
With the help of Chegg, within just two weeks, over 150,000 students used our application. Based on their circumstances, around half the students received a CARES Act letter and the other half received an aid appeal letter. And we included instructions to let them know that they should supply their schools with additional information if their schools requested it
(Read this post for more thoughts on the significance of this overwhelming response.)
More students are learning about CARES Act grants and aid appeal every day through Frank. And now, we have over 150,000 more reasons to keep doing what we’re doing.
Click here for Frank’s guide to COVID resources for students.