University of the Cumberlands recently received nearly $6 million in emergency coronavirus relief funding, and, in an unprecedented move, is directing every dollar of the funding to its undergraduate student body. 

Full-time degree-seeking undergraduate students will receive direct payments of $1,500, with Pell-eligible students receiving an additional $475. Part-time degree-seeking undergraduate students will receive $500, with Pell-eligible students receiving an additional $275. The aid was funded through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA). 

Although federal guidelines prohibit public funding from being distributed to international undergraduate students, the university is using private, institutional dollars to provide direct payments to that population. This move ensures that every degree-seeking undergraduate student receives financial support.

Cumberlands president Larry L. Cockrum said the university could have withheld a majority of the funding to cover its own expenses, but instead opted to transfer every dollar to students, many of whom have struggled with educational and living expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our mission at University of the Cumberlands is built around putting our students first,” President Cockrum said. “Every decision we make is made with that in mind. During this time of prolonged national emergency, supporting our students is crucial. We care for our students, we want them here, and we want them to be able to focus on their education and extracurricular opportunities.”

The federal government allocated a total of $5,852,797 to Cumberlands to provide financial aid grants to students, student support activities, and to cover a variety of institutional costs. The university will begin processing payments to students immediately.

Directing 100 percent of emergency funding to students is a continuation of The Cumberlands Commitment, an initiative launched in 2018 to make college more affordable for students. Tuition was lowered by 57 percent in 2018, and, in 2019, Cumberlands made textbooks free for in-seat undergraduate students.

Cockrum noted that most college students were not included in stimulus payments issued in relation to the pandemic, yet he feels many students, and their families, have struggled financially and could use the help. He hopes allocating these newest payments directly to students will provide relief and allow students to focus more on their education.

In May 2020, Cumberlands used federal emergency funding to provide in-seat undergraduate students with one-time payments of $500 to $1,000. Dr. Quentin Young, vice president for finance at Cumberlands, believes giving funding from the latest relief package furthers the university’s commitment to its students’ financial stability.

“Cumberlands has done well in recent years financially because of the students who’ve put their trust in us for a quality education,” Young said. “It’s important, when possible, that we reinvest in our students to help lessen the financial burden they may have and help position them well for life after college.”

Young said any full-time or part-time undergraduate student enrolled in coursework at Cumberlands on January 20, 2021, will automatically have the new payment processed. Checks will be distributed as early as the week of February 1.

“Many of our students and their families are feeling the strain of this global crisis, especially financially,” said Young. “By putting dollars into their hands, we hope to help offset some of the costs they have incurred from the financial impacts brought by the pandemic. We are following the guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Education and are allocating funding in a way that impacts the greatest number of students.”

This financial distribution is part of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund II (HEERF II), which was funded through the CRRSAA. The purpose of the funding is to provide emergency financial aid grants to students for expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CRRSAA student grant distribution may be used for any component of the student’s cost of attendance or for emergency costs that arise due to coronavirus, such as tuition, food, housing, healthcare (including mental health care), or childcare.