Initiatives to Support Student Residents in University Housing During COVID-19

Columbia is committed to providing stability and flexibility during this uncertain time and to work with each student’s unique circumstances so they can continue to feel safe and secure in their housing 

May 15, 2020

The outbreak of COVID-19 in New York City and across the globe created unprecedented challenges to Columbia’s operations, including support of the undergraduate and graduate student residents living in University housing. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the University has implemented options and procedures focused on the continued health, safety and security of each student resident. 

On the undergraduate side, the University mobilized move-out as quickly and efficiently as possible for students who could leave campus for their home safely, providing financial hardship assistance considering the extraordinary circumstances. This quick action near the onset of the pandemic in New York City allowed for the necessary reduction in density within the residence halls to safely care for the students whose personal circumstances did not allow them to leave campus. Reducing campus density has been a priority to safeguard all members of the community – both students and the staff working on campus - while allowing the University to provide critical resources and services for those who remain in residence.  

The University recognizes that undergraduate students have a variety of individual concerns and needs, including those with residency in countries other than the United States, students with DACA or who are undocumented, or students who receive financial support or otherwise face housing insecurity and may require additional support from Columbia to ensure their health and safety. For some, this may mean a range of services, from funding assistance to return to their homes and a pro-rated refund based on their check-out date; for others, this may mean funding summer housing to remain on campus. This support process was in place for the spring term and continues for the summer period for undergraduate students whose unique circumstances require a move-out extension or summer housing.  

Whatever the circumstances, the health and safety of our students and staff have been paramount in guiding operational decisions.  

For graduate students, changes to standard policies and procedures were designed to meet dual objectives: create more flexible options for residents who want to vacate their apartment and provide stability and security for residents who want to remain in their apartment through this period of uncertainty. For the former, the University waived early termination fees for semester agreements and prorated rent based on a student’s move-out date. Graduate students also had the option of applying for financial hardship assistance to help cover the cost of moving out of housing. These flexible move-out options accommodated more than 1,000 graduate students. 

In addition, the University has implemented several measures to make it easier for graduate students who want to remain in their apartment through the current uncertainty of the pandemic to do so. There is no increase to rent on all housing agreements for graduate students for 2020-21. In addition, graduate students graduating in May can remain in housing through August 15. Any graduate student (continuing or graduating) may cancel their agreement without penalty before August 15 and have their rent prorated should they decide to move out prior to then.  

In addition, Columbia has increased summer stipends for eligible PhD students whose schools typically appoint them on a nine-month basis. The summer 2020 stipend enhancements could be of up to $3,000 per student depending on certain factors, such as whether students have opportunities at the University for summer employment. These funds will be made available to over 1,000 doctoral students, and are available to assist with a range of challenges and contingencies that our students are facing during the COVID-19 emergency. 

No graduate student has been asked to leave Columbia housing, and all students have been encouraged to contact Columbia to discuss any concerns they may have related to their unique circumstances in order for them to continue to feel safe and secure in their housing. 

From the beginning of the crisis, the goal has been to support those with unique personal circumstances and to provide flexible and supportive options for graduate students to take advantage of based on their own situation and preference in order to maintain their health and safety. The University continues to monitor the crisis and its effect on the housing landscape, providing support and resources through preparedness sites for Residential and Undergraduate Housing students during this difficult time.