The University Network

New Free Service Helps College Students Access Aid Amid COVID

College students facing increased financial, academic or personal crises amid the COVID-19 pandemic could increase their chances of receiving aid or assistance by using a new free service jointly created by two non-profit organizations, Swipe Out Hunger and Rise. 

The service, named the Student Navigator Network, is staffed by college students who are trained to help their peers access resources unique to their individual needs, whether it’s money to pay for food and housing, mental health assistance, WiFi, healthcare or even unemployment insurance, among other things. 

“If a student is finding themselves in need of extra support when it comes to their finances, their mental health, academic related issues or another personal crisis that they’re going through, that student can submit a request in our portal,” said Marissa Nachman, vice president of programs at Swipe Out Hunger. 

“A trained Student Navigator, who we have hired, will receive that form and respond to help provide resource referrals to that student, explaining what resources might be available to them in their community or on their campus and help them navigate public benefits and also receive information on important policies or services that may be relevant for them,” she explained. 

To receive help, students must first fill out a brief form asking what type of support they specifically need, whether it is with food, technology access, unemployment insurance, WiFi, housing or rental assistance, healthcare, transportation, moving, mental health, utility assistance, financial grants/loans, work study assistance or financial aid.

Students are also asked to write down the college or university that they currently attend and the city in which they currently live. That way, Student Navigators can customize their assistance based on where each student is located. 

After the form is submitted, a Student Navigator will reply back via email with a list of some general and local resources unique to each student’s needs and location. 

All students who attend colleges or universities in the United States — no matter where they go to school, their immigration status or if they’re in the middle of transitioning between schools — can access help through the Student Navigator Network, Nachman explained. 

“That being said, because it is a referral service, certain things about that person’s situation may dictate what resources the navigator may be able to direct them to,” she added.

When COVID-19 forced U.S. colleges and universities to shut down their campuses in early March, thousands of students lost their jobs or were forced out of their housing or cut off from  meal plans, among other things. These changes, along with the overall impact of the virus, have taken an enormous toll on students’ financial, physical, mental and academic well-being. 

Accessing adequate help, though, is often made difficult by a number of logistical and societal barriers. Lifting those barriers and reducing the stigma attached to asking for help is a big reason why Swipe Out Hunger and Rise created the Student Navigator Network.  

At this point, grant funding will allow the nonprofits to run the service though at least the end of 2020, Nachman explained. But the organizations assume support will continue to be needed past that point, and, if it is, they hope to be able to continue offering the service as long as students need it. 

If you are a student looking for assistance, fill out and submit the form available here