Colleges and universities around the United States are receiving grants as part of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. While about half of the money is designated for emergency grants for students needing to cover housing, food, healthcare, and course materials, the other half can be used for COVID-19 incurred financial losses. With countless university faculty and staff members furloughed in an attempt to keep institutions afloat, how will they benefit from the bailout?
The question of how to protect teachers comes at the helm of the 2020 Teacher Appreciation Week, and during a time where colleges are attempting to mitigate the disastrous economic impact of COVID-19. About 5,000 American colleges, universities, and trade schools are eligible to apply to receive federal funding. The $12.5 billion is allocated through a formula accounting for the size and income of an institution’s student body and can only be accessed by requesting it from the Education Department.
Grants are weighted toward students who receive federal Pell Grants. The bigger the student body and the more low-income students a school has, the more money it is entitled to receive. The $12.5 billion comes from the larger CARES Act, the bipartisan policy that passed in late March to mitigate the intense strain the coronavirus pandemic has brought on workers, businesses, students, and schools.
The grant calculating system has received some criticism as it does not take into account preexisting endowments some schools have. Ivy League schools including Harvard University, Princeton University, and Stanford University – all of which have considerable endowments exceeding $20 billion each – have all announced that they would not be applying for any of the relief funding the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund allotted for them.
Colleges across the country sent students home in March in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. Campuses emptied and classes moved online, but by April, universities absorbing massive revenue losses and anticipating further losses in the upcoming year began furloughing staff. Some came up with limited plans of a scaling number of furloughed days based on salary ranges while others were put on hold without pay until further notice.
However, this grant – which colleges are under no obligation to pay back – could mean a much more optimistic outcome for faculty. The University of Central Florida, which is among the fortunate few institutions that have not had to furlough or layoff any of its staff, is projecting considerable losses but keeps its focus on prioritizing faculty.
“We’re projecting losses of around $49 million through August as a result of student housing refunds, meal plan refunds, paid sick and family leave, and other losses,” Mark Schlueb, UCF’s director of strategic communications told Refinery29.
He added that a series of cost-cutting measures throughout April including hiring, travel, and purchasing freezes enabled them to partially offset those costs. Of the $51 million UCF received through the CARES Act, the fourth-largest allocation in the country, half is going to student financial relief. “The CARES Act requires us to the greatest extent possible to continue paying people and keep them employed,” said Schlueb. UCF President Alexander Cartwright told the UCF Board of Trustees that the university’s goal is to “preserve our advantage of human capital” as opposed to letting go of faculty and staff.
While many universities have already reported massive losses from spring term alone, the upcoming academic year still poses considerable causes for concern. A higher education trade group predicted a 15 percent drop in overall enrollment, amounting to a $23 billion revenue loss nationwide, reports the New York Times.
According to educational organizations, $12.5 billion is nothing to sneeze at, but it will not last should the coronavirus continue or resurface in the fall and winter. A letter written and co-signed by over 70 academic and educational organizations to Senators and Representatives on both sides of the aisle – a copy of which was given to Refinery29 by the American Federation for Teachers – asked that the next stimulus include at least $175 million to stabilize nationwide education as a whole, $50 million of which would go toward higher education.
“We can’t forfeit America’s future—that’s why we're urging Congress to take up and pass a $250 billion package for education funding in the next COVID bill,” the AFT president, Randi Weingarten told Refinery29. “Congress has a choice – it can stand with Donald Trump, who cares only for his wealthy friends, or it can stand with teachers and nurses, who are getting us through this crisis and will continue to do so in its aftermath.”