Santa Monica College is distributing $6.1 million in direct financial assistance to students facing severe financial problems due to the COVID-19 crisis. The funds are provided by the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act and the HEERF (Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund) to ease the hardship of students who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
Approximately 5,000 students at SMC are expected to qualify for the special one-time funding. Many have already received checks — ranging from $350 to $1,000 — and more students will see funds arrive in the coming weeks.
Santa Monica College students are hardworking and highly motivated individuals,” said Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery, SMC Superintendent/President. “Many of them, even under ‘normal’ circumstances, persist in seeking to make better lives for themselves and their families—through higher education—under great odds. This pandemic has disrupted the lives and livelihoods of thousands of them, and the financial assistance through the CARES Act will truly make a difference.”
SMC — which was extremely proactive and among the first institutions to apply for the funding — was also awarded an equal amount of $6.1 million to cover costs related to the disruption of classes and services and the transition to an online environment.
“We are grateful to have received these federal funds and to be able to provide direct aid to our students who have been impacted by COVID-19 in devastating ways,” said Brenda Benson, SMC Senior Administrative Dean of Counseling, Retention & Student Wellness. “We also have case managers reaching out to provide emotional support, as well as assistance with critical resources such as housing, food, and other basic needs. We want to make sure our students have the support they need to continue pursuing their educational hopes and dreams.”
Benson is part of a committee established by SMC to determine which students were eligible for the emergency relief aid and ensure the funds will be provided to those who need it the most. The committee — led by Teresita Rodriguez, VP of Enrollment Development, and including, in addition to Benson, Dr. Hannah Lawler, Dean of Institutional Research; Tracie Hunter, Associate Dean of Financial Aid & Scholarships; and Susan Fila, Director of Health & Wellbeing — developed a system to specify award amounts for students. SMC faculty and staff helped the committee by identifying students impacted by COVID-19 and in need of direct aid.
“I have always been impressed by the level of commitment and resilience demonstrated by our students, faculty, and staff, but during this very challenging time, I am amazed at the power of our community in coming together at a time of crisis,” said Rodriguez. “This emergency aid is very much needed by our students experiencing the financial impact imposed by the COVID-19 crisis, and I am eternally grateful that we are able to help students in this way as they persist in their studies. I am also very proud of all of the other supports and acts of kindness for our students demonstrated by every member of the SMC family at this time.”
The selection process included reviewing students who had completed a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and met certain other criteria, including qualifying for the CCPG (Community College Promise Grant) for low-income students and affiliation with one or more of SMC’s extensive student support programs. Eligible students were sent a short survey so they could verify that they wanted to receive funds and indicate how they had been impacted by COVID-19. Questions on the survey included asking students if they were experiencing housing insecurity, food insecurity, or loss of income, as well as whether they were parents with dependents, or someone taking care of others.
SMC student Joselyn Acosta, a single mother returning to SMC as a sophomore after two years away to care for her daughter, plans to use the money to have her gas turned back on and pay her electric bill. She is an active member of SMC Cheer, and said the group is a critically important source of emotional support for her. An Early Childhood Education major, Joselyn is preparing to qualify for an Assistant Teacher permit and plans on a career as a counselor for elementary school students. She has been using a Chromebook borrowed through SMC’s free laptop-lending program, but hopes to use some of the funds she receives to buy a computer of her own for her studies, and “free up the Chromebook for someone else who needs it.”
For Victor Gil, who participates in SMC’s Adelante Program, the money is a lifeline that will help defray his family’s mounting household expenses. He and both of his parents lost their jobs and income due to the pandemic. A lifelong athlete with a special love of soccer, Victor is a Kinesiology – Exercise Science major at SMC, and plans to transfer to a university and major in Sports Marketing.
CARES funds are available only to Title IV-eligible students who are U.S. citizens or nationals, but the college is committed to ensuring that Dreamers, AB 540, noncredit, and international students are not left behind during this challenging time. SMC has designed a survey and qualification rubric for these students, and will use a different funding source to provide financial assistance. The same financial and other criteria will be used to assist the non-CARES fund recipients.
SMC will be delivering classes and support services online for the fall 2020 services, with a limited number of classes to be delivered in a hybrid format. The college also offers extensive support services including mental/physical health counseling and 24/7 emotional support through The SMC Center for Wellness and Wellbeing; a free, ongoing Chromebook laptop lending program (over 300 students have received laptops); a weekly, drive-thru pop-up food pantry and a home-delivery Meal Project through the SMC Foundation for vulnerable students who otherwise have limited or no access to freshly prepared, healthy meals.
Santa Monica College’s Nursing and Respiratory Therapy programs have donated ventilators and respirators to hospitals fighting the coronavirus, through the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). In coordination with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, the State of California, and OptumServe, the SMC Airport Arts Campus serves as a walk-up, by appointment only COVID-19 testing location as part of Governor Newsom’s expanded testing capacity to reopen California as well as L.A. County’s commitment to providing expanded access to testing for county residents. For information on SMC’s response to COVID-19, visit smc.edu/coronavirus.
Grace Smith, Public Information Office