There have been numerous assessments of the recently enacted CARES Act and many valid points on needed improvements have been made regarding the funding for education. However, once again, a critical and particularly vulnerable population has been left behind.

Dr. Merodie A. Hancock, President of Thomas Edison State University

Representing our country through their diverse and rich backgrounds; building our workforce through constantly upgrading their skills; serving our country in military, healthcare and public service; and taking care of the generations that have come before and after them, let this be the last time our adult students, along with their efforts to better themselves and their communities, are forgotten.

This nation has more than 7 million active adult students striving to complete their degrees and better their lives. For a significant number of these students, online learning is the solution that best allows them to achieve their academic goals while working one or more jobs, protecting our country, raising children and taking care of loved ones. These students are often excluded from state tuition assistance programs because they cannot study full time; if they are veterans, they receive less money than their peers in face-to-face classes; and now these deserving students and the universities that serve them have been excluded from the support of nearly $14 billion in federal stimulus aid.

While the delivery of their online courses has not been interrupted by COVID-19, their academic environments certainly have. Their lives have been turned upside down as they have lost their jobs, or, to the other extreme, been called into extended shifts as first responders and medical care providers on the front lines in these dire times. They have children who are home from school and day care, parents at risk in long-term care facilities and numerous other COVID-19 related interruptions that impede their academic goals. However, because they are online students, they have been excluded from receiving any support from the CARES Act.

I am calling on legislators and policymakers alike to keep this underserved and underfunded population in mind when deploying assistance. Adult students are key to any economic recovery, yet historic and recent neglect only undercuts their ability to succeed. Your positive action from here on is a critical investment in our country’s future. Please, let this be the last time they are forgotten.

Dr. Merodie A. Hancock serves as the fourth president of Thomas Edison State University, having assumed office on March 5, 2018, following an extensive national search. She is a nationally recognized leader in the administration and delivery of innovative education programs for adult students. Access, success and completion are the mainstays of Hancock's educational philosophy. Through decades of meaningful interaction with nontraditional learners, she says she knows empirically that education is the nexus through which one's capability is harnessed for positive personal and professional growth and societal impact. She has dedicated her career to serving a multitude of underrepresented populations, including veterans and active-duty military members.