Slowly but surely and as promised, UNC System schools are starting to settle their accounts from the COVID-interrupted semester. Prorated refunds of unused housing and dining fees are starting to go out.
As you'll recall, North Carolina's state universities closed their campuses in March, about six or seven weeks before the end of the spring semester, as the coronavirus started to spread. Nearly all students went home.
Bill Roper, the interim president of the UNC System, said in mid-March that a decision on refunds would come sometime after April 1. On March 30, Roper told the Board of Governors that the schools would indeed issue refunds to students who left campus and that details about the process would come out "very shortly."
I expected a big announcement from the UNC System. Refunds, after all, have been a big issue ever since word came down that students had to clear out of their dorm rooms. Instead, I picked up rumblings about refunds earlier this week from the Appalachian State parents Facebook page I belong to. And sure enough, App State updated its coronavirus response page Monday night with details about how it calculated refund and when it would cut checks.
All four UNC System schools in the region have let their students know how the refund process will work.
At UNCG, students who left campus on or before March 21 (UNCG's clear-out deadline) will get 44 percent of their housing fee refunded. (I didn't see a percentage for the dining fee because it involves hand-calculation and a lot more complexity.) UNCG said all refunds will be processed within the next two weeks and no later than April 30. Click here for more details. A UNCG spokeswoman told me by email that UNCG is processing 4,963 housing refunds and 6,069 dining refunds. UNCG expects to refund close to $11 million in refunds.
N.C. A&T is processing about $8 million worth of dining and housing refunds. A&T is using March 23 as its date to determine refunds, and students will get a rebate of about 40 percent of their spring semester dining and housing fees. A&T said it will distribute refunds by April 23. Click here for more information.
Winston-Salem State University is using March 23 as its calculation date. Click here (and look for the April 6 update) on how refunds will work there.
UNC School of the Arts is using March 16 as its calculation date. Refunds will be done by the end of April. Click here (and scroll down to the April 8 update) for details.
Here are a few things all you math geeks need to keep in mind: Refund amounts will vary wildly, and the refund you get almost certainly isn't going to the same as what someone else gets. For one thing, there's a wide range of prices for dining and meal plans at each campus and between them. For another, each campus closed its residence halls on different dates. (The calculation dates I mentioned above are the dates when the schools told their students they had to leave campus.) For a third, the schools have different calendars, and the spring semesters end on different dates.
For as systematic as the UNC System seems at times, there's a lot of individual variation, and it's clearly showing up in the housing and dining refunds.
Speaking of variation, the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday how much federal stimulus money it will send to each U.S. college and university. The CARES Act will give about $14 billion to the higher ed sector. The Education Department said the first $6.28 billion installment must go toward emergency student aid.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, here are the CARES Act totals announced Thursday for local colleges and universities (in ABC order and with rounded dollar amounts):
Bennett College: $768,798
Elon University: $2.99 million
Forsyth Tech: $4.93 million
Greensboro College: $962,182
Guilford College: $1.68 million
GTCC: $8.26 million
High Point University: $2.61 million
N.C. A&T: $14.1 million
Salem College: $1 million
UNCG: $18.57 million
UNC School of the Arts: $868,886
Wake Forest University: $3.4 million
Winston-Salem State: $6.12 million
Each school will get half of the amount listed above "immediately," according to the Education Department. Schools must spend that first installment on emergency financial aid — that is, cash grants to students for things like course materials, technology, food, housing, health care and childcare incurred because of the disrupted semester, according to this Education Department news release. The schools will decide who gets this emergency money and how much they'll receive.
The awards for each school are based on enrollment, the number of full-time students eligible for federal Pell Grants and number of students not already enrolled full-time in online classes before higher ed went virtual this semester.
I pulled the numbers above from the Chronicle's database, which is here if you want to look up your school or any other.