The COVID-19 pandemic caused unexpected campus closures in mid-March. With the Fall 2020 school year approaching, some campuses have decided to resume in-person classes with heavy safety precautions to enforce social distancing, some are going completely remote, and some will be a hybrid of the two. Students need to make many decisions about if and how they want to resume their education in a way that is safe and meets their needs. Planning for the school year is complicated and young people need our help to make the best decisions possible. If you have other examples or strategies you’d like to share, please email our Higher Education Program Manager, Jillian Sitjar.

Tips for Advocates

1. Work with students to get clarity on how their campus or program will resume in the fall?

  • If classes are only being offered remotely, go to tips 3, 5, and 6 to make sure they are ready for remote learning.
  • If classes will only be offered in person, discuss how you can make sure they feel comfortable attending classes in person.
  • If classes will be offered both remotely and in person, talk through with the students what meets their needs at this time and how they can stay safe and healthy.

Click Here to Download the Word Document

We encourage you to take this document and make it a state-specific resource to maximize its utility for young people and advocates. This document is available in a Word format for that purpose.

    2. Help students think through and plan for their housing options.

    • If the student planned on living in the residence halls, determine the following:
      • Do students experiencing homelessness and foster care get priority housing, or can arrangements be made for them to remain in the dorms, even if they are closed to most students? 
      • Do students feel comfortable living on campus? 
      • What safety precautions and policies are in place to ensure health in the dorms? For example, are there policies for social distancing, and rooms set aside for students to self-quarantine if needed?
    • If the student needs to find off-campus housing options, discuss the following: 
      • If the student is in extended foster care, or eligible to re-enter foster care, make sure the child welfare agency is providing a placement, housing, or funds for housing. 
      • If the student aged out of foster care, or was in foster care at age 16, find out if there is a local FYI program or FUP program that could provide a housing voucher. 
      • Find out if there are any options for subsidized housing.
      • Utilize off-campus housing search engines offered by the school and encourage students to contact the rental assistance center if there is one on campus
      • See Tip 10 and explore whether coronavirus relief funds are available through the student’s school to pay for housing.

      3. Help students access campus support both in-person or remotely to help with their success.

        • If the student had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or accommodations plan in high school, help the student request an accommodations or disability plan from the office of disability.
        • Find out if there is a foster care specific student support program or homelessness support program on campus that you can connect your student with.
        • Find out if there is a foster care higher education point of contact (POC) or higher education homeless liaison on campus to help find resources, find out about support services, and provide assistance with financial aid.

        4. Make sure students have contingency plans if COVID-19 cases increase and campuses that opened decide to close during the semester.

          • Make sure students have the equipment needed if they need to go remote quickly. See tip 5.  
          • Make sure students have a back-up housing plan if they are in the residence halls and they close and if the campus offers housing refunds. 
          • Make sure students have plans for moving or storing their belongings if needed. 
          • Find out if prorated refunds are offered in the case that University Housing must close do to COVID.

          5. Make sure students have the technology they need to do remote learning. 

          • Help students get a computer if they do not have one, and make sure the computer is equipped for online learning, i.e. has a web camera and high-speed processing.
          • Make sure students have reliable internet access.
          • Make sure students have a printer. 
          • See whether the students’ schools offer laptop or hotspot loans.


          6. Help students identify supports they may need if they are attending school remotely.

            • See if students would benefit from academic support, such as tutoring or time management resources, and connect them with the tutoring or writing program on campus.
            • If  students would benefit from additional social or emotional support, consider the following actions: 
              • Be sure to check to see if out-of-state telehealth related to COVID-19 is permitted.
              • Making a plan to check in with them more frequently.
              • Identifying and helping students make an appointment for behavioral health services or teletherapy services.
              • Identifying and helping students arrange peer supports through programs or affinity groups.

          7. Help students determine how their living costs may change based on whether campus opens, or if they are attending school remotely.

            • If needed, work with students to create an updated budget reflecting expenses for their anticipated living situation and course load.
            • Discuss with students whether their financial aid package will change (especially if they are considering part-time) and help them contact the office of financial aid if needed. 
            • If applicable, discuss with students whether they can cut costs by taking courses online at community college and transferring them into their “home” 4-year institution. 
            • Discuss with students whether they will have changes in other costs such as food, transportation, and child care and help them identify additional resources to help them meet these needs.

          8. Make sure students have what they need to complete the FAFSA, and understand decisions and deadlines that could impact their financial aid.

            • Assist youth experiencing homelessness or from foster care with any documentation necessary to complete the FAFSA.
            • Make sure that  students understand that if they drop below part-time student status, they may not be eligible for financial aid and may enter early federal student loan repayment. 
            • Make sure that students know and understand the dates to withdraw from classes, so they will not have financial penalties (typically either the first week of school or last week of the withdrawal period).  
            • If students are having trouble proving their income if they did not need to file taxes, help them advocate with their school to make sure the school is following new federal guidance that allows several alternative means to prove income (other than Verification of Non-Filing from the IRS.) 

          9. Advocate for students in foster care to make sure their decision about school enrollment does not impact their eligibility for services.

            • Help students in extended foster care maintain their eligibility by:
              • Helping them stay enrolled in school. 
              • Asking for an exception to the extended care eligibility requirements due to COVID-19. 
              • Helping them change their eligibility category (for example, from school to work, or participation in a program to promote employment).
              • Confirming that the state has requested a suspension of the work or school requirements from the Children’s Bureau and that the youth does not need to meet the criteria to remain in extended care.

          10. If students have unmet financial needs related to returning to or continuing in school due to COVID-19, check if the school has Coronavirus Relief (CARES Act) funds or emergency aid that the youth can apply for.

          • As part of the CARES Act (the federal COVID-19 package) higher education institutions were awarded funds to be disbursed to students who face challenges related to COVID-19.  Grants can be made to students for things such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care.  The costs must be related to COVID-19.  Funds can be used for the fall semester if schools still have funding available. 

          Tips for Higher Education Institutions

          Access to Financial Aid:

          • Send reminder emails to students that the FAFSA is available starting on October 1st. 
          • Host office hours in person or virtually for students experiencing homelessness or foster care. 
          • Conduct training for financial aid administrators regarding independent student determination statuses, and the unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness or foster care. 
          • Remove barriers to FAFSA completion with sensitivity to the unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness on their own or from foster care.  
          • Make students aware of the recent federal guidance that allows students who do not need to file taxes to verify their income through means other than the Verification of Non-Filing (VNF) and IRS Form W-2. Help them complete acceptable documentation. 
          • Provide outreach to students to let them know how to apply for any remaining Coronavirus Relief (CARES Act) funds, any future relief funds, or other emergency aid that is available.

          Click Here to Download the Checklist

          Students experiencing homelessness face many barriers in their pursuit of higher education. The pandemic has created even more barriers to their education, health, and safety. Institutions can use this checklist to review their policies and practices to ensure that they support students experiencing homelessness, and help rather than hinder their enrollment, retention, and success. (This resource was created in response to harmful policies experienced by our scholars returning back to school.)

          Communicating with Students:

          • Create a dedicated webpage that has all information regarding COVID-19, classes, safety plans, etc. and include information for students experiencing or at risk of homelessness, or foster care.
          • Conduct tailored outreach to students experiencing homelessness or foster care regarding assistance and supports that are available. Consider partnering with your financial aid office to conduct specific outreach to students who indicated independent status on the FAFSA.
          • Use a texting application or Chatbox to communicate with students rather than email to make a more personal interaction. 

          Keeping Students Healthy and Succeeding in School:

          • Offer health kits (masks, sanitizer, thermometer, etc.) to students who are returning to campus. 
          • Request updated contact and address information from students before sending supplies.
          • Make COVID-19 testing available on campus at no cost to students. 
          • Provide self-isolation space on campus if needed. 
          • Develop resource lists that are widely available on the campus website and in campus offices that include emergency assistance and support. 
          • Make sure food pantries are stocked and include hygiene items. 
          • Create a survey that asks remote students what they need in order to succeed in class. 
          • Record classes and provide transcripts to ensure all learning styles are accommodated. 
          • Provide flexible attendance policies and the option to use a webcam in case students cannot join class or cannot turn on their webcam because they cannot find a quiet place to tune in. 
          Video Tips for Higher Education Institutions

          College & COVID-19 | Tips to Identify and Communicate with Students Experiencing Homelessness

          College & COVID-19 | Housing Tips for Students Experiencing Homelessness

          College & COVID-19 | Financial Aid Tips for Students Experiencing Homelessness

          College & COVID-19 | Academic Success Tips for Students Experiencing Homelessness

          College & COVID-19 | General Success Tips for College Students Experiencing Homelessness

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