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Brown has not reached decision on whether to accept $4.8 million in federal COVID-19-related relief

‘100 percent’ will go to student support if U. accepts funding, peer institutions reject aid after criticism for large endowments

The University has not yet made a decision on whether it will accept over $4.8 million in federal government aid through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The CARES Act, a $2 trillion COVID-19 economic relief bill, allocates nearly $14 billion to higher education institutions to support the costs of shifting classes online and provide emergency financial aid grants to students.  

“Our understanding is that Congress voted to allocate CARES Act funding because legislators wanted to support the (highest-need) students in the country,” wrote University Vice President of Communication Cass Cliatt in an email to The Herald. The University is still “assessing whether, by accepting the money, we would fulfill the intent of the legislation.”

The goal of the act, as outlined in a letter from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to college and university presidents, is to “get support to those most in need as quickly as possible.” “That starts with college students whose lives have been disrupted, many of whom are facing financial challenges and struggling to make ends meet,” DeVos wrote in the letter.

Of the $4.8 million that the University is eligible to receive under the relief bill, at least half of the funds — $2.4 million — must be set aside for emergency financial aid grants to students. 

If Brown does decide to accept the funds, the University would “be committed to ensuring that 100 percent of the dollars would provide the intended support for students related to the disruption of campus operations due to novel coronavirus,” Cliatt wrote. The University has already spent over $20 million on pandemic related costs, like room and board refunds, and expects to lose up to $60 million total, The Herald previously reported.

Beyond the mandate that at least half of funding must be used for emergency financial aid relief for students, the CARES Act does not outline specific guidelines for how universities should distribute funding, leaving the decision up to the individual schools. “The only statutory requirement is that the funds be used to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus,” DeVos wrote. Such expenses may include meals, housing, books and technology, health insurance and even childcare.

While Brown has yet to make a decision, Harvard, Princeton, Penn, Yale and Stanford University — the five wealthiest private universities by endowment size — have all elected not to accept their multi-million dollar grants. 

The nation’s wealthiest institutions have been under increasing pressure from the Trump administration to reject their federal funding due to their multi-billion dollar endowments. On Wednesday, DeVos discouraged schools with large endowments from applying to receive aid so that “more can be given to students who need support the most.”

“It’s also important for Congress to change the law to make sure no more taxpayer funds go to elite, wealthy institutions,” she added.

One day after facing sharp criticism from President Trump, Harvard, with a $40.9 billion endowment, announced that it would not “seek or accept” the nearly $9 million in aid allocated to it under the CARES Act. 

Harvard posted an announcement on Twitter explaining the decision. “We are concerned that the intense focus by politicians and others on Harvard in connection with the program may undermine participation in the relief effort that Congress created and the President signed into law for the purpose of helping students and institutions whose financial challenges in the coming months may be most severe.” Harvard’s announcement represents the reversal of its previous decision to accept its federal funds and allocate 100 percent of the aid to students. 

Brown’s $4.8 million federal funding allocation is small compared to its peer institutions. Columbia and Cornell, for example, are set to receive $12.8 million each under the CARES Act. Penn, Harvard and Yale were allocated $9.9 million, $8.7 million and $6.9 million, respectively. In addition, Dartmouth and Princeton were each allotted $3.4 million and $2.4 million, respectively.

According to DeVos, the funding allocated to each institution under the relief bill was determined “using a formula based on student enrollment” and the number of Pell Grant recipients enrolled at the school. Schools with more Pell Grant recipients and schools with higher enrollments received more funding. 

These parameters are outlined in Section 18004(a)(1) of the CARES Act, which specifies how the nearly $14 billion in aid to colleges and universities will be distributed. Roughly $12.5 billion will be distributed to higher education institutions based upon their enrollment and number of Pell Grant recipients while another $1.05 billion in funds is reserved for “minority-serving institutions.” The remaining $349 million will be reserved for smaller colleges and universities that demonstrate “significant unmet needs related to the expenses associated with the coronavirus.”

According to law firm Chapman and Cutler LLP, this means that 75 percent of the gross funding of $12.56 billion “will be apportioned according to the share of full-time equivalent enrollment of Federal Pell Grant recipients,” while the remaining 25 percent “will be apportioned according to (the) relative share of full-time equivalent enrollment of students who are not Federal Pell Grant recipients.” Students who were enrolled exclusively in online courses prior to the health crisis will not be granted money.



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