Boosting Aid in a Time of Need
Kathy Kwan, A22P, watched with alarm when the COVID-19 pandemic started triggering massive job losses this spring. Realizing that the economic fallout could cut short students’ college dreams, she knew she had to act—and fast.
“I realized this is a time of such great and unexpected need that we had to accelerate giving so young people can continue their educations,” said Kwan, president of the California-based Eustace-Kwan Family Foundation. “How could I help students whose financial aid situations were dramatically changing because their parents were laid off, or they lost a critical summer job? How could I make sure they stay in school?”
Tufts was wrestling with the same questions, as appeals for additional financial aid for both incoming and returning undergraduates soared—far exceeding the university’s available resources. The need is projected to jump by $4 million or more for the 2020–2021 academic year alone.
Kwan and her husband, Alan Eustace, A22P, offered a solution: a challenge gift.
With their pledge of $1 million, they set the pace for the COVID-19 Financial Aid Match, an initiative that has now attracted generous gifts from five more families, all parents and alumni. Together these donors will match every gift to undergraduate financial aid, dollar for dollar, up to $2 million, effectively closing the $4 million gap. Gifts may be made online.
Kwan said she was inspired by the outstanding education her daughter is receiving at Tufts—an education she wants every deserving young person to be able to experience. Their generosity also continues a vital Tufts commitment: to meeting full demonstrated financial need of each undergraduate student throughout college. Tuft is one of only approximately 70 universities and colleges in the United States that has made this promise.
“Now is the time to step up and take action,” she said. “This is what I call a ‘we moment’—a time when we can really make a profound difference in the lives and futures of Tufts students.”
Among those who have heeded that call, and already contributed generously to the pool of challenge funds, are Lori Samuels, J81, A22P and Ted Samuels, A22P; and Rebecca Neary, J87, A22P, a Tufts trustee, and Jim Neary, A87, A22P. The two couples have stepped up as parents and as co-chairs of the President’s Council.
With financial aid as one of President Monaco’s top priorities, these two couples are now working to encourage other Council members to support financial aid and student hardship funds at schools across the university.
“What truly differentiates Tufts is the breadth, depth, and quality of the students,” Lori Samuels said. “This is truer than ever before because of the size and impact of financial aid. We attract an amazingly diverse and talented group of students regardless of their ability to pay tuition.
“The COVID-19 Financial Aid Match is critical because it directly and immediately helps the most vulnerable and those dealing with the most uncertainty,” she said. At the same time, it fulfills “an implicit commitment we make to students, families, and the broad Tufts community. Regardless of potential changes in your financial condition, you will always be a member of the Tufts family.”
Other couples who have responded to the initiative with generous gifts are Michael Lainoff, A84, A21P and Kathryn Kincaid A21P; Mariann Youniss, J83 and Andy Youniss; President Council members Nathalie Giauque, J92, A93P and Nicolas Giauque, A23P; and one anonymous couple -- a total of seven.
Stories of struggle
During a “normal” academic year, Tufts can accommodate appeals for additional financial aid when family circumstances change, said Patty Reilly, associate dean of financial aid. This spring, though, those hardships were more widespread than at any other time in her 40-year Tufts career. The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on families across the country, with tens of millions seeking jobless benefits since COVID-19 took hold in March.
That crisis led to a rapid 20 percent uptick in financial aid appeals from the incoming class alone. Some 200 students and their parents flooded Reilly’s office with letters, emails, and phone calls.
“I've been through a bunch of recessions, and while 2008 was very hard, this has a very different feel to it,” she said. “Partly because it was so abrupt, partly because it's tied into a health scare brought by a highly contagious virus. It’s not just financial stress. It has a different level of emotionality than we've seen before.”
The range of family scenarios, she said, are also unprecedented. Families are struggling with job loss, medical concerns, mounting debt, and the uncertainty of how long a weakened economy will last. And appeals came from a broader range of economic backgrounds.
One student’s parents had steady full-time jobs as an upholsterer and a seamstress until they were both laid off. Another student’s father, a physical therapist, saw a 90 percent drop in patients, and his mother’s part-time job as a library assistant pays slightly above minimum wage. Another father is a dentist. The family was “doing OK by most standards,” said Reilly, until the practice was forced to close. The mother’s paycheck as a lab manager could not cover the mortgage and feed a family of four.
International students are also facing tough situations; emergency funding from CARES and other federal sources are not available to them, so they rely completely on what Tufts can offer through grants. A father who works for an international airline never expected the family would need financial aid, but his salary was cut by 50 percent. A coffee broker in Costa Rica who ran a small business and coffeehouses saw his income come to a skidding halt.
Reilly and her staff evaluated every appeal and estimated that the incoming class alone needs $2.5 million more in financial aid than the university has budgeted for the coming academic year. In mid-June, her office was notifying returning students of their awards and anticipated that sophomores, juniors, and seniors too would ask for more help.
Reilly is gratified that the COVID-19 Financial Aid Match acknowledges the gravity of hardships being felt by students from around the world. She is hopeful that more donors will lend their support.
“We feel strongly that if you are at Tufts and you want to stay at Tufts, we will figure out how to make that happen,” she said. “They are ‘our people,’ and we take care of them, no matter what. But this time, given the severity of the economic crisis, it’s going to take a village to help us get there.”
Creating opportunity—and access
Kwan’s passion for investing in education has personal roots. Her parents were born and raised in San Francisco’s Chinatown, a community where citizens were “socially, culturally, linguistically isolated,” and they endured discrimination and limited economic opportunity. Local organizations offered support and leadership development and both her parents went on to graduate from San Francisco State University.
“My father was like every first-generation kid,” she said. “He ultimately received a degree in civil engineering and became a director of manufacturing. My mother was a teacher. So, in my heart, I believe that education is the tool for kids who come from low income, disadvantaged communities.”
That belief has guided her philanthropy. Last year, the Silicon Valley Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals honored her with the Outstanding Philanthropist Award, in recognition of her tremendous support of local educational efforts.
“I have found that philanthropy can be such a positive force in your life,” she said. “Participating in something bigger than yourself gives you a sense of positive action and moving the needle.”
Everything she is focused on doing now—at Tufts and with her foundation—has amplified the meaning and purpose of giving.
“It’s about investing in hope,” she said. “It’s saying that today's status quo is not tomorrow's status quo. It is about making sure people can stay committed to their goals, and that they keep going.”
That’s why she appreciates Tufts’ speed in responding to the surge in demand for financial aid. To anyone poised to contribute to Tufts, she says, step up—and do it now.
“If you are really lucky, now more than ever you can have a role in helping others,” she said. “That’s the genesis of this matching challenge. It’s an opportunity for us to come together to leverage our resources so that Tufts students can continue their educations and fulfill all their goals and dreams.”