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Opinion: Our plan to help students in unprecedented times

Robert. O. Davies

COVID-19 has changed everything about our daily routines for learning, working and living. It has hit Michigan particularly hard: We have lost thousands of lives, our economy has been shaken, and our resources are stretched thin. The future is uncertain, and this has posed many challenges for Michigan students and their families.

As I communicate daily with our current and future students, I hear their frustration and fear. They have been separated from their friends and academic support systems as schools moved to remote instruction. Their important milestones, such as graduation events, have been canceled. 

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Many suffer from the additional anxieties of financial uncertainty. Their families are struggling and will likely continue to face significant financial hardship in the months ahead. Some students who depend on wages from part- or full-time jobs to pay for school have lost those jobs as a result of temporary business closures. 

Our students and their families are hurting, and we feel their pain. As a university president and the parent of a first-year student, I share it, too. And I want them to know that as they face these hardships and uncertainties, they are not alone. 

This week, we announced plans to freeze undergraduate tuition rates to give families more stability as they plan for the future. We are increasing the amount of need-based aid and scholarships we offer. We have tied our merit scholarships to a percentage of tuition instead of a specific dollar amount — again, giving families more certainty as they plan and pay for college. We’re offering deferred payment options and flexible payment plans for students; we will not charge late fees that would otherwise prevent students from registering for future classes.

We also will guarantee on-campus employment to any first-year student who wants — or needs — to work while attending classes. I look forward to working with our community partners and local businesses to provide flexible employment options for our students as well. 

Since the Great Recession, our leaders have been seeking ways to regain our state’s economic prosperity — a quest that should not stop as a result of COVID-19. 

Robert Davies

Higher education has the power to positively transform lives and the future of our state, but only if we keep it within reach of those who seek it.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown how strong we are when united by a good cause. Let’s remain united and continue to invest in Michigan’s students, families and future.

Robert. O. Davies is president of Central Michigan University.