(JACKSON, Miss.) — Jackson State University is offering free summer courses to assist students and families who may need to “get ahead” academically or economically during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. JSU is also the only one of Mississippi’s eight public universities to not request a tuition increase. Tyra McCormick, a finance major, says she was initially shocked by the news of free summer courses. “I honestly couldn’t believe it. I thought this was something out of reach for us, but I think this is a great initiative on Jackson State’s part,” says McCormick, the university’s newly elected SGA president for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year. The free classes and lack of a tuition increase are part of the university’s response to help students and parents during a challenging economic period. Funding for the classes is provided through federal Higher Education Emergency Relief funds, established in March 2020 as part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES. “We have been exploring strategies and ways to help make education more attainable for students and potential students, and by extension their families,” says Thomas K. Hudson, president of Jackson State University. “Higher education is one way for individuals to elevate their station in life. Therefore, we want to provide every transformative window available.” Hudson further adds that a number of factors went into the decision to not increase tuition this fall, including higher education trends and “meeting people where they are.” According to an April 2021 Pew Research Center survey, the unemployment rate increased from 3.8 percent in 2019 to 8.6 percent in 2020, with young adults ages 16 to 24 being the hardest hit. Among those who said their financial situation grew worse during the pandemic, 44 percent said they believed it would take them at least three-plus years to get back to where they were financially a year ago. This also bodes badly for the one-in-ten people who said they feel their finances will never recover. While JSU’s efforts are intended to alleviate some financial strain, the university also wants to revitalize students who feel pandemic drain and help position them for academic success. Dr. Alisa Mosley, provost and senior vice president of Academic Affairs, explains that Hudson’s initiative to provide summer resources aligns with JSU’s student success efforts for undergraduate and graduate education. “I think students will use the funds to stay on track with educational goals,” she says. McCormick agrees and amits that she wanted to take classes this summer, but it was not in her budget. “I think it’s a chance for students to get ahead or catch up. But, it also makes us feel as if the university is hearing us and understands that this has been a trying time for us.” Although McCormick says she does not know anyone personally experiencing economic loss, she has heard stories of students who could not afford to return to school because their parents were laid off. Others, she says, had to forego certain luxuries to stay in school. A native of Clinton, McCormick plans to be an entrepreneur. She says that she hopes higher education will be more affordable in the future. “Higher education is somewhat of a necessity, but it can be unattainable with tuition increasing. So for JSU to come up with this initiative is really thoughtful,” she says.