Covid-19 Justice Higher Education

Waiting on ED: 13 FAQs Clarify CARES Act Relief Funding for College Students and Campuses

A Texas Civil Rights Review Interim Report
[With some inserts added in brackets, Apr. 23]

Financial aid experts thought they knew what they would do with federal money that Congress allocated under the CARES Act for emergency aid to college students. Like everyone else, they have been reading that COVID-19 relief funding from the Department of Education (ED) is only a day away.

Two weeks after the CARES Act passed, the emergency funds were going to be “immediately” released, a promise that reporters mistakenly treated as accomplished fact on Apr. 9. Then, the funds were going to be released “as early as” Apr. 15. And lately, on Apr. 21, ED posted 13 FAQs telling how–and how not–to use those funds, that is, when they are made available, which, seriously–and we mean it this time–could be soon.

If you’re not confused by any of the above, it’s because you haven’t been trying to figure it out.

Meanwhile, headlines have been stuffed with announcements about $1,200 CARES Act checks hitting taxpayer accounts as early as Apr. 13. And we are amply informed that $350 billion in CARES Act small business relief was spent by Apr. 16, prompting the Senate to vote on Apr. 21 for another $310 billion.

Now, approaching the one-month anniversary of the Mar. 27 CARES Act, we are still looking for a single headline that says, “College Student Receives Federal Emergency Relief for COVID-19 Hardship.”

In the 13 FAQs released Tuesday, ED holds the line on some of its earlier guidance, already widely anticipated, that the first half of the $12 billion relief fund must go to students, not to student accounts, even if students need money to pay accounts.

However, in a slight twist that caught experts by surprise, if the campus has already given money to students for COVID-19 relief in the form of cash payments [and if the money was given after passage of the CARES Act on Mar. 27], the campus may use the federal money to replenish that account, instead of giving the federal money to students.

Many campuses have already raised local emergency funds and paid them out for COVID-19 emergency relief. Often, these campus funds have run out before all requests were filled.

Experts were also hoping that Congress intended to cast a wider net with the student half of COVID-19 emergency relief so that it would not require cumbersome analysis of overall financial need or citizenship status. They were hoping to disburse the funds with short-form requests that would not be closely tied to Title IV federal financial aid, which is regulated under the cumbersome FAFSA system.

But in a catch that caught many by surprise, the recent FAQs say that students eligible for this round of emergency relief must be eligible for Title IV, or “could be” eligible. What this means to financial aid professionals is that if a student is not already on the Title IV rolls, a time-consuming FAFSA analysis will have to be applied.

In a closely related surprise, the Title IV “clarification” has the effect of excluding foreign students.

Likewise, on the question of undocumented students, most will be unable to access the funds because of Title IV resstrictions. The answer to FAQ 9 states that, “Students who have not filed a FAFSA but who are eligible to file a FAFSA also may receive emergency financial aid grants.” A fact sheet at state in turn that, “Most undocumented students aren’t eligible for an SSN; thus, they cannot complete the FAFSA form. However, DACA students with SSNs can complete the FAFSA form” (even though they are not eligible for federal financial aid.)

Experts were also surprised that the 13 FAQs excluded any students from COVID-19 relief funding if they were taking courses solely online at an institution where they could have been taking courses off line. The money was intended by Congress to address disruptions caused by moving online from campus, says the FAQ.

While financial aid experts knew that half of the $12 billion in COVID-19 funds for higher ed were earmarked for direct student relief, there was widespread perception that the other half of the funds might be applied to other expenses that supported students, such as unpaid bills.

Some campuses quickly refunded dorm fees or other costs, partly under the impression that a federal relief package would help make up the loss to Spring semester budgets.

The assumption that the second half of funding would be available for campus relief, not direct student payment, is what fueled harsh criticism of funds that would be directed through some of the well-endowed campuses, such as Harvard, Texas A&M, or the University of Texas. Harvard promised that it would apply all of the relief money to students.

Public criticism of emergency funds going to students at well-endowed universities were joined vith vigor by President Donald Trump, Treasury Secretary Mcnuchin, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, promting both Harvard and Stanford Universities to opt out of the program on behalf of their COVID-19 affected students.

In a promise typical of ED over the past weeks, FAQ number one promises another release of FAQs that will cover the second half of the money, “shortly after making those funds available to institutions.” The promise ensures that campuses will have to hold the second round of money at lest until the new FAQs are released.

Perhaps the release of FAQs on Apr. 21 pertaining to the first half of funding therefore means that indeed the funds have been released?

Covid-19 Justice Higher Education

Harvard, Stanford Students Hounded out of Federal Program for COVID-19 Emergency Relief

A Texas Civil Rights Review Update

Despite a Monday afternoon pledge by Harvard University to apply 100 percent of federal COVID-19 relief to emergency payments to students, US President Donald Trump, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos kept up a drumbeat of publc criticism against federal relief to students who attend well-endowed universities.

As a result of the pressure, both Harvard and Stanford have announced that their students will not be beneficiaries of the CARES Act emergency relief.

See this report by Yahoo Finance writer Aarthi Swaminathan

Also, please see our Texas Civil Rights Review Editorial about the funding criticm, written a day earlier.

Yale joins campuses declining federal student emergency relief funding: “We wish to reassure Yale students that this decision will in no way diminish our financial support for them at this critical time.” (Apr. 22, 2020)

Covid-19 Justice Higher Education

(Editorial) HuffPo Should Know Better: What the World Needs Now is More Relief for College Students

A Texas Civil Rights Review Editorial

Please see our update on how, despite what this editorial argues, Harvard and Stanford students were hounded out of the COVID-19 emergency relief program.

Harvard University has addressed critics who think the university should not be getting money for COVID-19 relief. In a statement quoted Monday evening by the Boston Herald, Harvard makes it clear that the money will be disbursed entirely for student aid.

The attack on the Harvard funding was poorly informed in the first place, and it was poorly timed.

The controversy over the funding was fueled earlier Monday by a Huffington Post headline that read: “Harvard, America’s Richest University, Grabs Nearly $9 Million In Taxpayer CARES Aid.”

The word “grabs” gives an impression that Harvard made some special effort to secure its share of a $12.5 billion relief package for higher education that was included in the CARES Act, signed into law Mar. 27. The money was allocated by a US Department of Education formula that proportioned the aid across 5,000 campuses according to a broad calculation of student financial need–a formula that resulted in 350 campuses assigned more money than Harvard.

The HuffPo column correctly reports that at least half of the grant to Harvard “must be reserved for emergency financial grants to students”–a requirement mandated by the CARES Act for every campus. Then the column speculates that “at least some of that money — which could be used to cover tuition payments and course materials — would also end up in Harvard coffers.”

Harvard is refuting speculation that it will place any of the CARES Act relief funds into its well-endowed coffers.

“Harvard is actually allocating 100% of the funds to financial assistance for students to meet their urgent needs in the face of this pandemic,” said a Harvard spokesman in a statement quoted Monday evening in the Boston Herald.

“Harvard will allocate the funds based on student financial need,” said the statement. “This financial assistance will be on top of the significant support the University has already provided to students — including assistance with travel, providing direct aid for living expenses to those with need, and supporting students’ transition to online education.”

The huffy HuffPo hit piece may be defended as an attempt to push Harvard toward that 100 percent commitment, but the timing and target of the attack are tone deaf to the more urgent need of the week.

Rather than cast suspicion on emergency student relief that was included in the CARES Act, and rather than hand a talking point to voices who would disparage Congressional relief to higher ed, a more healthy use of HuffPo space would point out that the half of the money which is by law required to help students directly is taking too much time to make its way to Harvard in the first place.

Although the US Department of Education promised “immediate” release of funds on Apr. 9–that is, “immediate” release of funds that were authorized Mar. 27–the fact is that experts knowledgeable in financial aid were unable to verify on Apr. 16 that any of the funds had actually hit any campus.

Compare the speed of this funding to the direct deposit of treasury checks or the funding of small business loans. The SBA ran out of $350 billion at least a week before the Education Department pushed $6 billion in “student emergency relife” out its door. And this is half the scandal of the day.

The mistake of the HuffPo column was to misunderstand the Congressional intent of the funds and to conflate the riches of the Harvard endowment with the real needs of Harvard students, who find themselves suddenly ejected from their dorm rooms or may come home to families where wage earners are laid off.

The timing of the attack was also poorly targeted, as the next round of COVID-19 relief funding is being finalized in Congressional negotiations. The attack is a political chiller that can only hurt relief efforts for American college campuses, exactly when those efforts deserve pressure to increase funding for COVID-19 relief.

Are we all in this together? It’s time to make sure that college students get the attention and suppor they need, whether they go to a rich university like Harvard or not.


Young American Scholars: Give Them Their $6.25B Already

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.

Covid-19 Justice Higher Education

College Students, Campuses Need at Least $46.6B in Fourth Round of COVID-19 Relief, Says Letter from ACE

A Texas Civil Rights Report update on the COVID-19 impacts on college students and higher education.

The American Council on Education requests that the next COVID-19 rescue package from Congress provide at least $46.6 billion in relief for higher education, to be split equally between students and institutions.

Half of the $46.6 billion should be spent as “emergency grants to students” in the amount of $23.3 billion.

“In order to address these urgent needs, it is necessary for the federal government to provide these critical funds to students and campuses as rapidly as possible,” says the coalition of blue-ribbon organizations in an April 9 letter to US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Here is an extended excerpt from the letter (we added paragraph breaks and emphasis):

“The federal government has the sole ability to provide the type of assistance to students, their families, and institutions of higher education that will not only allow colleges and universities to meet the needs of our students and staff, but to continue as engines of local and regional economies.

“Efforts to stimulate the economy must necessarily include the nearly 4,000 degree-granting, two-year and four-year, public and private colleges and universities. These institutions educate roughly 20 million individuals, generate total revenues of about $650 billion (in 2016-17 according to Department of Education data) providing a corresponding economic impact in their communities, and employ nearly 4 million Americans across campuses in every state and congressional district.

“Supporting higher education at this moment is an essential component of growing the economy and preserving employment for tens of thousands of Americans in the public and private sectors. In 2018, the University of Notre Dame had a regional economic impact of $2.46 billion and supported 16,700 jobs. Another study showed that in 2018, the University of Georgia pumped $5.7 billion into that state’s economy.

“In a number of states, such as California, Iowa, and Maryland, universities are the largest employers. Individuals with a postsecondary education degree earn more, pay more taxes, and are more likely than others to be employed, according to the College Board’s Education Pays 2019. For instance, in 2018, the median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients with no advanced degree working full time were $24,900 higher than those of high school graduates, and those individuals also paid an estimated $7,100 more in taxes.

“The benefits of a higher education are not simply economic. Having a college degree is associated with reduced unemployment, a healthier lifestyle, lower health care costs, and higher levels of civic engagement. Indeed, on any measure of wellness that demographers can devise, college graduates fare significantly better than those who did not go to college.

“Based on extensive conversations with our members and our colleague associations, we have prepared conservative estimates of the support needed to at least partially restore institutions. Many students and families will be earning less, and will have less available to spend on postsecondary education. For that reason, we estimate that a 20% increase in the current level of unmet need of nearly $60 billion will require an additional $12 billion in need-based financial aid.

“On the institutional side, we estimate that enrollment for the next academic year will drop by 15%, including a projected decline of 25% for international students, resulting in a revenue loss for institutions of $23 billion.

“Auxiliary services, which are not related to instruction but provide services to students, faculty, and others, including dormitories, food services, bookstores, health and recreation facilities, and the like, generate revenues for schools. These revenues support day-to-day operations including instruction, academic support, and student services. We estimate auxiliary revenues will decline by 25 percent, which is conservative relative to the numbers institutions have been reporting so far. In FY 2017, America’s colleges and universities realized $44.6 billion in auxiliary revenue, so the expected loss is $11.6 billion.

“All of this adds up to a total estimated need of $46.6 billion, which would be divided equally between students and institutions.

Emergency grants to students totaling $23.3 billion will enable them to begin or continue their college educations. Similarly, institutions will be able to use their share to begin filling financial gaps created by the pandemic.

“It is important to note that these are conservative estimates, excluding numerous areas where institutions are facing additional challenges. We’ve excluded $374 billion in revenues—from sources such as charitable giving, hospital revenues, and investment income to name a few—from this calculation even though a large percentage will undoubtedly be lost. We also do not factor in the significant state disinvestment in higher education that is expected due to substantial financial pressure on states stemming from COVID-19. Accordingly, the figure of $46.6 billion represents just the floor of the overall impact confronting colleges and students as a result of the pandemic.

“To meet both existing needs and to ensure students and families have the resources to return to college in the fall, we propose that the funds continue to be split equally between institutions and students. However, we also request that the funds targeted to students in this supplemental bill be provided by institutions in the form of need-based financial aid, with sufficient flexibility to address sudden changes in students’ circumstances that arise from the economic downturn the pandemic has caused. . . .”

ACE letter to Pelosi, McCarthy (Apr. 9, 2020) archived below (pdf 113 KB)