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Administrators address student concerns, from financial aid to health and virtual graduation tributes

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Jocelyn Arceo
Managing Editor

The Associated Students of the University of La Verne held a virtual Town Hall Wednesday night featuring numerous University officials to address student concerns pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic, the current status of online education, and the upcoming academic school year.

Also at the meeting were various University representatives including President Devorah Lieberman, Provost Jonathan Reed, Chief Student Affairs Officer Juan Regalado, Chief Financial Officer Avo Kechichian and Vice President of Strategic Enrollment Management Mary Aguayo, among several others.

Topics of discussion included the status of grades and finals for this semester, financial aid and tuition concerns, as well as inquiries regarding efficient plans to ensure social distancing and safety measures for the fall 2020 semester.

Reed emphasized that any decisions pertaining to finals for this semester lie in the hands of the individual instructors. However, faculty members will be provided with recommendations on flexibility and alternative options. He gave examples such as decreasing the usual two to three hour time gap, as well as the possibility of conducting a group final that emphasizes positive teamwork, or even the option at waiving the exam entirely.

“I want to be clear that at this point we’re advising faculty what we think are best practices in this situation and it’s left to them, but we do understand that ASULV is requesting that it be a policy for all students,” Reed said.

The possibility of providing students with a “universal A” for the semester was also suggested, but Reed said he felt that the better option for students to have is the ability to take their classes this semester, including major courses, for credit/no credit. He said he felt that the option for a “universal A” did not seem fair, but students having the ability to opt for credit/no credit until the end of the semester appears to be the more flexible and fair option available.

The newly established Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act Grant fueled further discussion on financial aid and tuition during the meeting. With the CARES Act Grant, the University was awarded $2.8 million dollars by the Department of Education specifically to give directly to students, who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. This aid is being provided to help those struggling with costs such as for food, health care, child care, housing, course materials, and any other unexpected expenses that have resulted from the coronavirus pandemic, Xochitl Martinez, executive director of budget and student financial services, explained. Students can submit an application at laverne.edu/cares/.

“Students will be able to request up to $1,500. This is a grant and that means that it does not need to be repaid,” Martinez said. “It is not meant for tuition and fees. The office of student accounts will be dispersing the money, but we will not be applying that money to any balance that you may have. It will go directly to you.”

However, the department of education has enacted guidelines for those who qualify for the aid. Students who are eligible for the grant must also be eligible for financial aid, meaning they have to have a FAFSA on file and they must be a United States citizen. Although international students and undocumented students may be ineligible for the CARES Act Grant, they still remain eligible to apply for the student emergency fund. To apply for the emergency fund, submit an application online.

Along with these emergency funds and relief grants, Aguayo emphasized that students who are struggling financially need not to hesitate when it comes to reaching out to the financial aid office for additional options regarding their tuition status.

“They’re ready to extend to you a professional judgment if the financial information on your FAFSA is no longer correct,” Aguayo said. “They can help you qualify for Pell Grants or Cal Grants that you haven’t qualified for previously, and they can also do everything possible to ensure that students’ finances are not the reason that they are not able to continue with school.

As students have complained about the cost of tuition, Kechichian said that even with annual increases that have averaged about 3% in recent years, the University remains an affordable institution that offers students opportunities for additional aid. This has put  ULV in the lower third when compared to other private university tuition rates in the area.

Although tuition reimbursements were not granted for this semester, Lieberman emphasized the fact that the University has worked diligently and intentionally toward providing students with the best educational experience as possible, albeit virtually. Classrooms are not the only aspects of campus life to move online, students can also find health services, yoga classes, tutoring and even Greek life has made the best of this new virtual reality, she added.

“Nobody said to go online by choice, we had no choice, it’s not perfect and we have to be patient with each other, and we have to be persistent,” Lieberman said. “I really believe we should all, whether we’re a student, faculty, staff or administrator, we should be so proud of what the Leo community has done during this period.”

An additional avenue that has been implemented for students struggling financially amid the pandemic is the Community Engagement Grant, which was formerly known as the Housing Grant, and provides resident students with up to $4,000 in additional aid to put toward their on campus residency costs each year. Regalado explained that this grant goes toward students living on campus who may need additional aid to support their housing, and although it was applicable prior to the pandemic, the consequences of the pandemic have led to an increase in the grants funds, as well as allowing international students to take advantage of the grant.

All students planning to live on campus qualify for a “minimum grant of $2,000 per year regardless of financial need, including graduate students, law students, CAPA students, and international students,” according to a post on the Housing Department’s Instagram, @ulv_housing. In addition to this grant, the Housing Department has also decided to reduce their application fee from $200 to $50.

“We made it a point to increase the community engagement grant award for students that are eligible, and we are also awarding to international students where in previous years they were not eligible,” Regalado said.

When it comes to the upcoming academic school year, Reed said that the University has been carefully monitoring the situation so as to develop an efficient plan for returning back to face to face classes in the fall. Prioritizing the health and safety of all students and employees on campus remains the highest priority. Safety measure, including social distancing and other necessary precautions against the coronavirus will be in place, Reed said.

“We intend, within the next two weeks, to communicate that plan to all current students as well as prospective students and the entire community,” Reed said. “I would like to stress that we’re prioritizing the health and safety of all students and employees, we’re doing so not just for our sake, but also for the public health of the entire region.”

Planning for a return to campus in the fall involves various levels of social distancing measures, ranging from rigorous to minimal, and can include aspects such as only allowing single rooms in the residence halls, training for both students and employees on hygiene and social distancing protocols, as well as additional safety measures implemented within areas such as the classrooms, dining halls and residence halls, Reed said.

Another aspect being considered for the plan is how to appropriately handle situations in which students or faculty members may be considered high risk, such as offering the ability to opt out of physical classes.

“I want to stress again that at this point we don’t have all of the final answers,” Reed said. “But, we will be communicating a plan within a few weeks before students leave for the summer, and we will be prepared in the fall.”

Lieberman echoed his sentiment, adding that the University wants to ensure everyone is aware that the plans for safety guidelines and social distancing procedures being discussed are for the sake of the ULV community at large; students, staff, faculty and all.

“We do really want to make sure people realize that this is a blip in everyone’s life,” Reed said. “It seems like an eternity right now, but we’re going to get through this, and this is really something for all of us to tell our grandkids about.”

One of the last things discussed at the virtual Town Hall was the status of commencement. Although there is still no date for the postponed physical ceremony, Ruby Montaño-Cordova, deputy chief student affairs officer, shared the news that graduating seniors can expect virtual celebrations and acknowledgements from the University on May 30.

“Commencement: One Community” will be a series of four separate WebEx presentations that allows for the president, the provost, deans and various faculty members to honor and celebrate the graduating class of 2020.

In addition to this virtual celebration, the University will be sending out gift boxes to graduating seniors no later than May 25. Within the gift box lies surprises that Montaño-Cordova did not want to spoil, however, she did mention that one thing all graduating seniors can expect within their box is a yard sign that allows for students to announce to their neighborhood and their community that they are now a graduate of the University of La Verne.

“It’s extremely important. That’s what President Lieberman, the provost and others including faculty really wanted us to do,” Montano-Cordova said. “Graduating seniors will be receiving an email from me this week on Friday that will outline what will take place on May 30.”

Jocelyn Arceo can be reached at jocelyn.arceo@laverne.edu.

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