Jenn Smith | Recess: For many college students, a close to a strange school year

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Most Berkshire County college students are wrapping up classes this week, albeit not on campus.

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts students had their last remote classes on Monday. Berkshire Community College and Bard College at Simon's Rock students are slated to to conclude classwork on Wednesday. Williams College students will continue doing coursework until their scheduled last day of May 15, before entering study periods before final exams and projects.

Like local K-12 institutions, these higher-ed counterparts have also adopted versions of the credit/no credit grading system for the spring semester. Students at MCLA and Williams College can petition for a letter grade, but spring grading won't affect precious grade-point averages one way or another, nor dean's lists.

What of commencement ceremonies and activities? All have been postponed.

While some institutions are sharing special email and video messages to members of the Class of 2020, giving them virtual shout-outs, no local campus has opted for a virtual or socially-distanced ceremony this spring.

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What all four colleges are celebrating are significant allocations through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act. Nationwide, $12.56 billion of Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds are being distributed based on a Pell Grant formula; 75 percent of the funds have been awarded based on an institution's full-time in-person Pell grant recipients.

As public institutions MCLA received $1,309,397 while BCC received $1,052,143. Williams College received the largest allocation in funding for the Berkshires, a total of $1,564,588. Simon's Rock received a more modest sum of $312,339.

Nearly half of those totals are required to be awarded as emergency financial aid grants for students. The remaining balance can be used at the institution's discretion to cover qualified student expenses like food and housing support. Colleges cannot use the CARES Act funds to reimburse themselves for things like students' outstanding campus bills.

For that, colleges continue to be left to their own devices to make up the difference in revenue, while also looking at reduced enrollment figures for the fall.

Got a question about schools? Have an idea? Let's talk education. Reach me at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter or 413-629-4517.


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