CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois System has created a fund to provide financial aid to students who are facing increased economic distress due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The fund, which will have at least $36 million available to students, is being supported by the federal COVID-19 relief package, money from all three universities in Illinois’ system and private fundraising. The recently approved federal economic assistance bill set aside $14 billion for higher education.

University President Tim Killeen says students from Illinois will have priority in accessing the Students FIRST: COVID-19 Emergency Fund, which will be used to cover the 1% tuition increase at the Springfield campus and the 1.8% increase at the Chicago and Urbana/Champaign campuses.

The tuition hike, the first for the university system in six years, is to fund faculty additions needed because of seven straight years of increased enrollment. University officials haven’t said if the campuses will fully reopen in the fall.

Barbara Wilson, Illinois’ vice president for academic affairs, says in addition to paying for tuition increases, the emergency fund will also assist those currently enrolled with such things as housing costs and technology needs.

“The pandemic has disrupted college savings plans that were years in the making and created financial hardships no one could have foreseen,” Killeen said. “We want to make sure it doesn’t deny students access to the education that will transform their lives and supply the next-generation workforce that is so critical to the future of our state and nation.”

Students that want help from the university can apply for grants up to $1,000 through the campus financial aid office.

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