Rapid Response

See how the CSU is addressing the economic consequences of COVID-19.


When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the financial impact was immediate. Businesses shuttered and, by April 2020, the U.S. unemployment rate shot up 10.3 percentage points to 14.7 percent. While the unemployment rate has now stabilized around 6 percent, businesses are reopening and the United States enters a period of recovery, the economic ramifications will still be felt for some time.

Read about how the CSU responded to the financial strains affecting its community both at the outset of the pandemic and now.

Sea wall along Buhne Point.

Match Making

For many faculty members, life became a juggling act as they transitioned to online teaching or dealt with the pandemic's effects at home. As a result, it became more difficult for them to apply for grants or research funding—especially those that require matching funds.

This was especially true for early career faculty members applying to the New Faculty Awards program funded by California Sea Grant (CASG), which supports coastal and marine science in California and requires candidates to have a 50 percent funding match from another grant or their campuses at the time of application. Many did not have the bandwidth to apply as they were still learning how to seek external funding and navigate their campuses' in-kind contributions, while campuses were anticipating financial constraints due to COVID-19.

In response, the CSU Council on Ocean Affairs, Science & Technology (COAST) supplied the needed matching—totaling $150,000—from a new program funded by a one-time $3 million appropriation in the state budget called the State Science Information Needs Program. Ultimately, CSU faculty conducting research in aquaculture, fisheries management, greenhouse gas emissions and sea level rise constituted five of the seven CASG awardees.

“Funding in the first few years of a tenure-track faculty position is critical in ensuring that our scientists can successfully establish their own research programs," COAST Director Krista Kamer, Ph.D., says. “Our ability to provide this support came at such a critical time for some of our new faculty. Many of them are parents and were dealing with schools and daycare facilities being closed because of COVID-19. Studies have shown that productivity by faculty members who are parents has decreased during the last year. Providing this match funding is an example of what we, as an affinity group, can do during this difficult period of time to make things easier for faculty members, reduce stress and aid their progress in their careers."

Jennifer Marlow, J.D., assistant professor of environmental law at Humboldt State University, received CASG and COAST funding to study the potential risk of sea level rise on a spent (or used) nuclear fuel site located on a bluff above Humboldt Bay. When she learned about the opportunity to apply for the grant, she had just completed her first year of teaching at HSU—with a one-year-old child at home after daycare centers closed due to COVID-19.

An aerial view of the spent nuclear fuel site on Buhne Point.​​

The spent nuclear fuel site, called the Humboldt Bay Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation, sits on Buhne Point just 115 feet from Humboldt Bay and 44 feet above mean high tide.

“As with many families, it was total utter chaos … and [the match requirement] seemed like an administrative barrier to even applying because I didn't know if I could easily secure a match," Marlow says. “The COAST offering put it over the line for me and supported me in taking on the application. Without the COAST match, I probably wouldn't have applied because I don't think I had enough energy or motivation to try to chase another sponsor."

For Marlow, the grant will help her advance her career, as pursuing external grant funding and research projects is part of her retention-promotion criteria. But it will also provide a $25,000 fellowship to a graduate student helping with her research as well as funds to hire an undergraduate student research assistant.

“It's important to have funders like California Sea Grant and COAST recognize your research, because they can help disseminate the findings," Marlow says. “It benefits so many people—the graduate students, the undergraduate students, myself, my university and the CSU—to be in the mix of these prestigious awards. It's also my hope that my community in Humboldt, as well as other similarly situated coastal communities in California, the U.S. and internationally, will benefit from the research."

PASO students and employees gathered on campus.

Access Secured

The Title V Pathways to Academic Success and Opportunities (PASO) program seeks to increase Latinx retention and graduation rates at California State University San Marcos through services for current and future students. But with a grant from the San Diego Foundation, PASO upped support efforts for incoming and first-year students during COVID-19 to ensure they received the financial support needed to enter and complete college.

“Our PASO scholars are first-generation, low-income, self-identifying Latinos, so we knew there were inequities or disparities in educational resources during a regular year, but it was exacerbated by the pandemic," says PASO Director Minerva Gonzalez.

In a regular year, PASO usually holds study skills sessions, time management workshops, financial aid information sessions in Spanish and English for parents, translates financial aid forms into Spanish, provides a computer lab, enrolls students in PASO courses and helps with school and basic needs expenses for PASO scholars. It also presents on higher education and financial aid to high school classrooms and collaborates with Student Affairs and Academic Affairs to infuse cultural validation into its services.

The San Diego Foundation logoBut with the San Diego Foundation grant, the program was also able to hire a financial aid technician to guide current students on how to access college resources, including financial aid, and help incoming freshman navigate the high school to college transition. It also funded increased virtual outreach to high school students in partnership with the Migrant Education Program and nonprofits like MANO a MANO and the Boys and Girls clubs and hands-on assistance for parents and students. This included workshops on higher education in California and how to prepare for college, Q&As on the financial aid process, communications for Spanish-speaking parents about Cal State Apply and phone banking to help students apply for and receive financial aid.

“Students and parents fell ill to COVID and lost their jobs, and so they were tenuous about enrolling or coming back for the fall of 2020," Gonzalez says. “Especially for parents, their first thought was, 'I can't afford it; There's no way I can provide financial resources for students,' which is where the financial aid became very important so they understood how the process works.

“It's not just a matter of applying for financial aid and it's not just a matter of getting the award letter," she continues. “But how do they get their funds? When do they get their funds? What does it pay for? How much is going to go to the student? How do they set up their checking account? Are these loans? Are these grants? And how much does the parent have to contribute? … As a Hispanic-Serving Institution, we're not just enrolling students. We serve them."

A Shifting Industry

The hospitality and tourism industry bore the brunt of the COVID-19 impact with nearly half of in​dustry jobs lost in March and April 2020. And while jobs started returning soon after, the industry had still lost nearly a fifth of its jobs​ by March 2021.

“At that point in time, the hospitality industry was shut down completely, so all of our students who work​ all lost their jobs immediately," says Lea Dopson, Ed.D., dean of The Collins College of Hospitality Management at​ California State Polytechnic Univers​ity, Pomona and executive director of the CSU Hospitality & Tourism Alliance. “Most of our students work to make ends meet and get through life, and it's part of their curriculum to work in the hospitality industry."

In April 2020, Collins College and its board of advisors put $143,000 from the board fund, endowments and the annual Hospitality Uncorked fundraiser into the Student Emergency Assistance Fund. Based on an essay and their answers to a series of questions, students received scholarships ranging from $300 to $750.

Then in April 2021, the college raised $230,000 through a virtual Hospitality Uncorked for student support and created a new $10,000 scholarship in honor of the college's founders, Carol and James A. Collins, to help a student starting his or her last year with tuition, fees, books and a laptop.

“Students have had to change gears during the pandemic and try to find jobs in other industries, and we're trying to make sure they come back to school and are supported, especially the seniors continuing their last year," Dr. Dopson says.

To prepare students for working in different industries, staff helped them redesign their résumés to focus on transferable skills, offered interview training and hosted talks by alumni who graduated during similar economic downturns in 2001 and 2008. The college also provided LinkedIn Learning opportunities students could apply to their 800 training hours requirement, while a career services coordinator helped them find new jobs.

​​Screenshots of alumni speakers and networking events.

The Collins College hosted an alumni speaker series and networking events to help students and alumni who lost their jobs during COVID-19 prepare for new positions in the hospitality and tourism industry.

In addition, the college hosted alumni networking events and made the LinkedIn Learning programs and career services available to alumni who had lost their jobs. “At the Collins College, we're constantly engaging with the industry and alumni and connecting students, so we continued that," Dopson says. “In fact, we ramped that up so we could provide support for our students and our alumni."

While other campuses in the Hospitality & Tourism Alliance have responded similarly by offering scholarships, introducing new job training opportunities and hosting meetings with alumni and industry leaders, CSU hospitality programs are also equipping students for an industry that may be permanently altered by the pandemic.

For example, Alliance leaders have partnered with SD Meetings & Events, LLC, and meetings agency Caspian to teach campuses and students how to hold engaging virtual meetings, and San Diego State University hired Adjunct Professor Mandy Brown to create a virtual events class.

“Those three partnerships brought the public and private partnership together to see what is going on in the industry and how that can translate to what is going on on campuses," says Erin Scholes, SD Meetings & Events president and SDSU faculty member. “[As a result, when our students graduate,] they are able to be hired and [possess] the skills [needed] in the industry."

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For more information, see how the CSU's Small Business Development Centers helped entrepreneurs navigate the pandemic.