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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
COVID 19  |  UF

UF online, international and DACA students won’t receive aid from CARES Act

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While other UF students scrambled to arrange trips home, 21-year-old international student Anastasija Stevanovic was stranded in her dorm. All flights from the U.S. to Europe were canceled

On April 8, the Serbian government arranged a free flight home from Washington D.C. for Serbian international students like Stevanovic. She paid $440 for a flight and hotel, an unexpected cost she said was a little out of her family’s reach. She then set off from Gainesville to D.C. two days early, in case flights got canceled. 

“Because of the uncertainty of the situation in Serbia, all the decisions were basically on the spot,” Stevanovic said.

Stevanovic is one of UF’s more than 6,000 international students who remain ineligible for the U.S. government’s COVID-19 emergency funding for students, which would have helped with expenses like Stevanovic’s last-minute flight.

While Stevanovic said she has a scholarship that covers most of the cost of tuition and books, she pays for expenses like meals, rent and flights home herself. If students are allowed to return to campus in the Fall, Stevanovic said she is worried about how it could affect her financially.

Stevanovic said she loves her life at UF, but returning to campus would mean the additional cost of flights and paying for a new visa, which she doesn’t have to worry about while at home. 

“I think I’m half here, half there,” Stevanovic said.

The U.S. Department of Education issued about $31 million to UF through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, about $15.5 million of which will go to students as emergency aid. But international, online and DACA students like Stevanovic are not eligible for the aid.

Stevanovic pays about $28,600 for out-of-state tuition as an international student at UF, compared to the approximately $6,300 in-state students pay. And one American dollar equals around 107 in Serbian Dinar, the country’s currency, making Stevanovic’s cost of living in the U.S. much higher than the average out-of-state student, she said.

The university has provided some relief to international, online and DACA students with funds from UF’s Aid-a-Gator program, which provides financial aid grants to cover unanticipated travel, technology requirements or needs related to an emergency situation, according to the UF Office for Student Financial Affairs.

UF spokesperson Steve Orlando said the university is currently helping meet the immediate needs of students and will be considering financial aid options for the Fall semester as it approaches.

While classes this Summer will be held online due to COVID-19, Orlando said that is not the same as being an online student and will not affect how much students who normally receive instruction in-person will receive from CARES funding. 

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Students who were enrolled exclusively in an online program prior to March 13 are not eligible for financial aid grants, he said, citing federal guidelines.

Tara Gaines, a 19-year-old exploratory sophomore from Parkland, Florida, is part of UF’s online Pathway to Campus Enrollment program (PaCE), members of which are not eligible for funding from the CARES Act. PaCE allows students to begin their degree online and transition to campus after completing 60 credit hours.

Gaines said online students shouldn’t be separated from the students who take in-person classes because traditional students typically enroll in online courses as well.

“[Professors] want you to be engaged and feel as much as an on-campus student as anyone else would,” Gaines said. 

She said it is discouraging to realize that online students are not given the same financial considerations in the CARES Act as on-campus students.

Daniela Mena, a 19-year-old UF international student from San José, Costa Rica, planned to go to Europe or the U.S. for college to play competitive tennis, but after she was injured her senior year of high school, she decided to study at UF because she loved Florida.

When students were asked to leave campus until March 30, Mena stayed in her dorm at first, but later moved in with family in South Florida. Currently, only residents are allowed to fly into Costa Rica, but Mena said she hasn’t been able to find a flight home.

Mena said she thinks international students should have access to CARES funds because families are struggling.

“It would be very helpful for us to also be put into consideration with the aid,” Mena said. “At the end of the day, everyone is affected or has been affected by all of this world crisis. It would be great if we could also receive aid.”

Junior UF anthropology student Saira Gonzalez is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient whose family moved to Central Florida from Mexico when she was just a year old. She also cannot receive the CARES Act funding.

Gonzalez, now 20, said she and other DACA students were faced with the looming thought of deportation when the DACA program was disbanded by the government in 2017, and the uncertainty of COVID-19 brings an added sense of worry for Gonzalez and her family. If anyone in her family were to get sick, they would fear going to the hospital.

“The coronavirus has affected everybody, but I know it has affected and it's scarier for people that are undocumented or immigrants, given factors like language barriers, receiving no health care,” Gonzalez said. “The fear of having to pay out of pocket also keeps people away from finding any health care that they may require and may need.”

While Gonzalez’s parents are still working during the pandemic, many other immigrant families worry about being laid off, and their status in the U.S. limits them from receiving any form of federal aid, she said.

DACA students sometimes have to turn to private loans to pay for school due to the lack of aid options, she said. Gonzalez said she and her family pay for tuition, books and rent out of pocket.

Gonzalez said that because the system isn’t made for DACA recipients, some universities do not have a specific way of categorizing DACA students, excluding them from financial aid opportunities. 

“It’s kind of a big kick in the stomach to find out that you will not receive it,” she said.

Contact Nicole at Follow her on Twitter @_nrodriguez99.

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