Mar 11, 2020 - Health

What happens when Harvard closes

Photo by Denis Tangney Jr. via Getty Images

As colleges cancel classes and boot students off campus because of the coronavirus, they're creating logistical and financial nightmares that could leave many students in a bind.

Driving the news: Harvard University on Tuesday asked its students to leave on-campus housing this weekend, and to treat their departures as if it were the end of the school year.

Where it stands: Just down the road from Harvard, MIT also asked students yesterday not to return to campus. Columbia, the University of Washington, Princeton, Rice University and Stanford, among others, have also canceled classes.

Between the lines: Harvard has nearly 7,000 undergraduate students, 98% of whom live in on-campus housing. Classes will be taught remotely, but that only resolves one part of the uncertainty students — and especially poor students — are facing.

What we know so far:

  • The school is directing students who can't afford to travel home to its financial aid office. Those who don't have a place to go are being directed to their residential deans.
  • Pell and SEOG grants will not be impacted, based on recently released emergency guidelines from the Department of Education.
  • Room and board charges for the rest of the semester will be refunded.
  • Dining halls will close after Sunday.
  • The academic year is considered ongoing, so this change should not affect student visas.

What we don't know:

  • What happens to students in work-study programs, or who work off-campus in order to pay for their tuition. The school asks students to "be patient."
  • Compensation for student support staff, such as dining hall workers. Harvard is pledging "emergency-related paid excused absences" for those who cannot work remotely, but no specifics yet on if that will last through May, let alone summer sessions.
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