By Greg Moses
While small business owners and individual workers are well aware that the first round of fiscal stimulus is not enough to keep them going through the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s college students are just now discovering that they are owed $6.25 billion in federal emergency relief funding to help them cover “food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care.”
When they do the math, of course, 20 million college students will see that the money nobody is rushing to give them will evaporate in a week, just like the small business loans did. Maybe it will be this week, if the Department of Education is finally up to it.
But there may be some value in the foot dragging and delayed disbursement. It may afford college students precious time to rise up.
Students are not friendless. Congress allocated those billions to students already, in the CARES Act of Mar. 27. And while the nation’s attention was drawn to more rapid velocities for small business loans and treasury checks, the American Council on Education (ACE), a coalition of high powered interest groups, in a letter of Apr. 9, already has asked leadership of the US House of Representatives to fund another $23 billion in emergency grants to students “as rapidly as possible.”
Still, students seem to be affected by an iron-lidded contagion of resignation across America’s campuses. The ACE letter to House leadership estimates that 25 percent fewer foreign students will return to American campuses, subtracting their share from an expected 15 percent decline in overall enrollment next Fall.
A Google search of things said by college presidents indicates that austerity, layoff, and furlough are the talking points that address our national campus crisis. If anyone is declaring war against the boring out of college life, they must be working in bunkers darker than the dark web. We would need weapons-grade bots to search out their buried dreams, and rescue them from delete.
If there is a college campus near you, then you see clusters of small businesses nearby, selling pizzas, sandwiches, t-shirts, coffee, tacos, or gas. Oh, and this electronic device that you are reading with right now? Try to tell the complete history of it without giving credit to some college campus.
Fighting off a 15 percent downdraft in college enrollment is not a battle unrelated to a war for economic vibrancy. As for national security or the future of democracy, it is exactly the time for forging swords into ploughshares. More college–not more bullets–must be the essential motto of fiscal planting this Spring. Keep the dedicated, contingent faculty who are already working cheaply. Fund bargain basement discounts for student tuition and fees.
Look to Twitter for what college students are saying, and you’ll find plenty of notice that treasury checks evade them. Perhaps their parents get a check, but even if the student is working at a job, they are often declared a tax dependent, which makes them ineligible for a treasury disbursement.
Or, as one student explained, their father is self-employed, which brings us back to the small business mess. Other students are children of workers who use ITIN numbers, not Social Security numbers. Their parents get laid off without any relief.
How many students are finishing the Spring semester while working to bring home food and rent to parents swallowed up by the pandemic sink hole? Based on stories that I’ve been told, you can say at least two percent, which comes to at least 400,000 families nationally. Those students should get hero’s pay and gold medals, God bless them, one and all.
This crisis should not catch us so stupid as to forget the value of higher ed. Along the many fronts that COVID-19 is attacking, it will be a dumb mistake to let it steal the breath of the Fall semester. Where are the educators who will impress the nation as the health care workers have done?
Time is short, but we must find creative strategies that will transform our college campuses overnight into fundable basic research projects, experimenting in higher forms of life. Give our students their $6.25 billion down payment already, and let’s get scrambling, stat, to make higher ed well again. Like the future depends on it.
Greg Moses is a member of the Texas Civil Rights Collaborative and editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review.