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Penn Priority //

When Needed Most

Critical funds enable Penn to respond to student needs, even amid a global emergency

Penn has long understood the importance and necessity of financial support for students beyond tuition fees. The onset and continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the evergreen need for emergency funds that can provide relief for students and their families when unexpected circumstances arise.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, offices across Penn worked together and assisted 2,000 students with a safe campus departure, aid with travel arrangements, and financial resources. Campus leaders including Marc Lo, Executive Director of Penn First Plus, and Elaine Varas, Senior University Director of Financial Aid, formed a committee that met daily to address each student’s individual and unique needs. They also helped students obtain accommodations needed for remote learning.

Penn’s ability to respond swiftly to unseen and emerging needs stems from our longstanding commitment to growing student aid and having emergency funds on hand for students’ unexpected or urgent needs. Thanks in large part to the exceptional and visionary philanthropy of financial aid donors, Penn was able to:

  • Secure travel home for students and provide debit cards for food and internet services
  • Supply students with laptops, funds to address technology requirements, and other support during the transition to remote learning
  • Create both a student guide for navigating the COVID-19 crisis and Financial Wellness @ Penn, a toolkit for managing finances during uncertain times
  • Continue to pay all work-study students in the spring semester and make remote work-study opportunities available
  • Assist students in finding new remote internships and jobs when prior employment prospects could not occur
  • Waive all students’ summer saving expectations for the 2020-2021 academic year; to accomplish this, the University absorbed $13.5 million in undergraduate summer savings expectation grants
  • Provide stipends for highly aided students to cover living expenses and help them pursue unpaid or underpaid internships or research opportunities
  • Reevaluate financial aid packages for families facing new economic hardships

Penn also established two COVID-19 funds: the COVID-19 Special Response Fund for Undergraduates and the COVID-19 Special Response Fund for International Undergraduates.

The University has spent more than $28 million on unanticipated financial aid, and we anticipate increasing need throughout the academic year, even with a record financial aid budget of $282 million. While COVID-19 has laid bare the importance of emergency aid funds, Penn’s population of first-generation, lower-income, and highly aided students face substantial financial burdens even in optimal times. Penn will continue to address this urgent ongoing priority, as well as their overall needs, as students and families continue to navigate an uncertain and unexpected future. We extend our sincere thanks to all donors who support our efforts to ensure that all Penn students are prepared to face any adversity life presents.