COVID-19 emergency spending bill provides some funds for higher education

On Friday, March 27, the House of Representatives passed and President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, an approximately $2 trillion emergency spending bill in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate first passed the legislation on Thursday, March 26. The third COVID-19 package includes $13.9 billion that will be available in a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund for students and institutions of higher education.

The nearly $14 billion for higher education is part of the $30.75 billion Education Stabilization Fund, which also has designated funding for local education agencies ($13.2 billion) and discretionary state governor spending to be used for higher education and/or K-12 ($2.95 billion). Of the $13.9 available in the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, 90 percent (just over $12.5 billion) will be available to all institutions of higher education based on the proportion of Pell and non-Pell full-time-equivalent students who were not enrolled exclusively in distance education prior to the coronavirus emergency. The emergency assistance is to be split between direct assistance to students and institutions.

Students will be eligible for emergency grants that may be available through their institutions or traditional financial aid channels to meet unexpected and urgent needs related to the coronavirus, such as expenses related to food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care. Students who are currently participating in the Federal Work Study program can continue to receive work-study payments from their institution if they are unable to work due to workplace closures.

Relief also exists for students who must drop out of school due to COVID-19. Students will have the portion of their student loan taken out for the semester (or equivalent) canceled. Further, students who received a Pell Grant or subsidized student loan for spring term will not have those types of financial aid counted toward their lifetime limits.

More details regarding all provisions of the act impacting higher education can be found here starting on page 17.

While the inclusion of universities in the relief package was appreciated by higher education associations, the amount provided falls far short of what is needed. The presidential associations had estimated $50 billion as necessary to meet preliminary needs. In addition, state and local governments, including public universities, were excluded from tax credits to offset expenses associated with extended paid leave. These tax credits were provided to other employment sectors.

In a statement on the legislation, APLU President Peter McPherson said "the impact of COVID-19 is being felt in every corner of this country and the world. Public colleges and universities, which collectively educate 19.4 million students and employ 2.3 million faculty and staff, are directly impacted personally and financially by the coronavirus. Public higher education institutions are facing a huge financial hit from the virus. There is a desperate need for emergency funding to financially stabilize schools, aid and educate students, support the university workforce, and maintain a robust scientific enterprise, which is at the forefront of searching for cures and treatments…This bill was massive, but it’s all but certain Congress will need to do even more. It’s critical that colleges and universities and their students receive much more robust support as future legislation is developed.”

The American Council on Education and APLU Office of Data and Analysis provided preliminary estimates of the resources that are available to each campus. For the University of Oregon preliminary modeling suggests about $16 million, split between students and the university, is available.

On March 19, the Oregon Council of Presidents sent a letter to the Oregon delegation requesting emergency funding for higher education from Congress due to the disruption caused by COVID-19 as part of the third emergency funding bill.  The letter included supporting material dated March 17 prepared by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission that shows that the cost to Oregon’s seven public universities from this disaster could range from $350 million to nearly one billion dollars.