Seattle Colleges form emergency fund for struggling students

SEATTLE -- For some students attending The Seattle Colleges, life under the pandemic is challenging to say the least.

The Colleges decided to stop in-person learning on March 17th, forcing many classes to move to online learning models. For many of the students, the move was even more challenging because some did not have access to devices or WiFi.

"We have moved an entire operation, 44.000 students, hundreds of faculty, moving completely online," said Rosie Rimando-Chareunsap , President of South Seattle College. "In some cases that was an easier task. In other cases, where there was a lot of hands-on lab learning, like in some of our lab sciences, our welding program, it was much more challenging to make that jump to remote learning."

The Colleges are two-year public institutions and have been in the Seattle area for about 50 years. There are campuses in West Seattle, Capitol Hill, and Northgate. More than 44,000 students are enrolled with the average age of the student attending to be 28 years old. In many cases, the students try to balance school, work and parenting.

The pandemic and the subsequent closure of businesses, led to many students struggling on how to continue their education while providing for themselves and others.

"There were many that reported job loss, or loss of hours. I hear from faculty who are trying to help a student who has three kids at home now and they all have to share a device to try and learn," said Rimando-Chareunsap.

To help bridge that gap, The Colleges announced an initiative to raise $500,000 for an emergency fund to help students struggling with those life barriers right now.

"It’s essentially what we call an emergency grant where we try to bridge this time of financial insecurity so that these financial challenges don’t become barriers in continuing their education," said Rimando-Chareunsap.

Many students may not even know that the college can help like that.

"One of my classmates, received funds and her words exactly were a God-send," said junior Amber Christensen.

Christensen is part of the respiratory program at Seattle Central College. She said six of the 22 people in her cohort have lost jobs.

"Six of my classmates who work in the service industry. One is a math tutor, others are a barista, childcare. Those jobs disappeared," said Christensen.

According to the colleges, some students have decided to drop out because of financial burdens. Others are weighing options. Enrollment just at the South Seattle College campus is down a third from the winter quarter, said Rimando-Chareunsap.

During a 2019 survey, more than 40% of students that attend,  experienced food insecurity during a 30-day period. More than half of experienced housing insecurity within the year.

Many of the students that attend The Colleges go into the trade or medical field, just like Christensen who has one more year left in the respiratory therapy program.

"In the program alone, you’re probably putting in 40-50 hours a week just on schools and clinicals and studying to begin with," she said. "There were students struggling, but there is help on the way."

Christensen went through past struggles with the "dot-com" bust, and the real estate bubble in 2008. She hopes to help out other students going through the latest struggle with COVID-19.

The Colleges are asking for any public help in this emergency fund. If you'd like to help, you can click here.