Last month, the federal government released another Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III (HEERF III), giving students and universities a small financial boost in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. HEERF III is a federal emergency grant that provides temporary assistance to qualifying students. It is intended to help offset the cost of unforeseen issues arising from the pandemic, including healcare costs or lost wages, that can negatively impact a student’s educational experience. Although HEERF III is better than nothing, it is not nearly enough to make up for the losses students have faced these past two years.
HEERF III is not enough for UM students and what we face. First, eligibility is not promised. The university issued a statement explaining the grants will typically not exceed more than three thousand dollars and that the amount of money granted will be based on a student’s family contribution. This “family contribution” level is what the government thinks a student’s family can give them, not what the student actually receives. Although some students are lucky enough to have their parents put them through college, this is not the reality for many. A few thousand dollars is not enough to help these students who fend for themselves.
Additionally, it is expensive to live in Oxford, Mississippi. In Oxford, the cost of living is about 12% higher compared to the state of Mississippi, meaning that UM students must pay more to get their education compared to students at other colleges across the state. When talking to my friends from Ole Miss, I can brag about how I rent a nice place for less than a thousand dollars a month, but when I talk to my friends at Mississippi State, they laugh at how much I have to pay. The pandemic has not been kind to UM students who just want to get a good education and survive in an expensive town.
These past few years have been like no other for university students. COVID-19 has taken away the financial security many students rely on, myself included. Because I started college in 2020, many private scholarships I won were taken away, and the few private scholarships I managed to hold onto paid me months after they were promised. I became used to putting textbooks on credit cards, hoping that I would eventually get the money I was promised.
I must admit that a part of me is very grateful that the federal government is releasing HEERF III at all, however, these small grants should not be used to overlook the bigger picture faced by UM students today. It is expensive to live in Oxford on top of typical university expenses., and many scholarships and other resources that are given to students before the pandemic have been stripped away, leaving students to hope for the best. As student loans skyrocket, HEERF III is not enough. There must be a better way to allocate financial help to students instead of sending out a few grand once in a blue moon.
Willow Crosby is a sophomore majoring in accounting from Tupelo.