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Print Editions Saturday September 30th, 2023

Brown eligible for $6.9 million of funding from new coronavirus stimulus bill

Administrators have not yet decided whether to accept federal funds

The University plans to apply for the nearly $6.9 million of funding for which it is eligible under a new Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) signed into law by former President Donald Trump Dec. 27.

This funding comes as the latest installment in a timeline of stimulus funding offered to institutions of higher education amid financial challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, the Trump administration approved its Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, under which the University was originally entitled to $4.8 million in relief funding, The Herald previously reported

“These rounds of federal funding are intended to support students across the country adversely impacted during this pandemic, as well as the critical needs of colleges and universities arising from the coronavirus,” Vice President for Communications Cass Cliatt wrote in an email to The Herald. “We feel it is important that our community can benefit from this support.”

The University applied in spring 2020 for the portion of CARES Act funding designated for emergency financial aid grants to students, since the portion of the Brown-specific stimulus package unrelated to emergency aid grants had spending rules and limitations attached to it, Cliatt wrote. As a result, the University only applied for $2.4 million of the original CARES package.

According to Cliatt, the University is obligated to direct 100 percent of the $2.4 million freed up by the CARES Act to supporting students. “The University plans to make a decision in the coming weeks about the distribution of funds to eligible students and will provide more detailed information at that time,” Cliatt wrote.

Under the most recent round of CRRSAA funding, the University would receive as much as $2.4 million in additional funds to support students’ needs and up to $4.6 million to support institutional needs. In total, across the two rounds of funding, the University could use approximately $4.8 million of the available funds to support students. 

“Though we have not yet applied for or received any CRRSAA funding, the University is committed to using available resources to ease the challenges of this pandemic for our community,” Cliatt wrote. 

Funds not directly supporting students could help offset universities’ other operational costs, explained Kenneth Wong, professor of education policy and director of the Urban Education Policy Program. “Going remote has significant financial implications on all institutions, not only Brown or Ivy Leagues or private institutions, but perhaps even more severely on public four-year colleges and two-year colleges, as well as historically Black universities and colleges,” Wong said. 

The University announced that its budget deficit due to COVID-19 could possibly reach $165 million for Fiscal Year 2021, The Herald previously reported. Wong said that “significant financial implications” arise when students are unable to return to campus, since “immediately the room and board charge has to be forgiven.”

According to Wong, the CARES Act and the CRRSAA cumulatively offer around $40 billion to institutions of higher education as part of their COVID-19 relief, while the higher education sector had originally estimated its needs at about $60 to $100 billion.

As many universities deliberate the prospect of accepting the stimulus resources released in December, they face similar questions to those that arose during discussions of the CARES Act — namely, whether the nation’s most elite and wealthy institutions of higher learning have an obligation to refrain from accepting federal relief so that funds can be redirected to those with smaller endowments and more dire financial struggles due to COVID-19. 

Many of the University’s peer institutions, such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, declined to accept the money made available under CARES at the end of last year, The Herald previously reported

Wong pointed out that when it comes to university endowments, oftentimes large portions of the endowment money are funneled toward specific causes at the stipulation of donors, such as supporting the performing arts or promoting underrepresented groups in STEM. As a result, when Congressional leaders tell university presidents to rely on their endowments, what they often overlook is that the access to endowment funding is restricted, he said. 

In order to evaluate which institutions had the most need of financial support, Congress performed a data-based analysis to estimate the magnitude of the endowment on a per student basis of various universities across the United States, Wong said. Those involved in the project produced a ranking in terms of endowment value per individual student, and the conversation about abstaining from accepting federal stimulus packages directed itself toward the 30 to 40 institutions with the highest endowment value.

Schools like Harvard, Stanford and Duke topped this list, Wong said, but Brown fell outside this bracket. “Because of that context and the media attention, (these universities at the top of the list) have decided not to engage in applying for the stabilization funding, because they’ve already gone through that debate and probably wisely preferred not to attract additional attention by applying for the stabilization or stimulus money,” Wong said. 

But Wong said that for a school like Brown, accepting federal assistance could represent a valuable opportunity of coping with financial pressures associated with the pandemic. “The number one potential welcoming benefit of some of this financial aid is to enable the University not to make the toughest decision — that is, to let go of some of their long-serving staff.”

Wong also highlighted the importance of the funding in supporting some of the University’s student-focused initiatives.

“There is an argument that Brown may want to make in order to keep the $7 million (in stimulus funding), because over the years we have established the Brown Promise initiative (to meet a hundred percent of students’ financial aid needs), and it is a very generous pledge,” he said. “I think because we are committed to first-generation opportunities at Brown, the seven million could be used for a very good cause, which is consistent with the needs at other institutions as well.”

The University’s budget also funds initiatives “contributing to the broader community,” so Wong is not worried about the University’s ability to put the funds to good use, he said. “We are making some positive impact. For example, there are programs (through which) we contribute to the public good in a significant way — public health, education, public policy, public humanities.”

In the weeks leading up to his Jan. 20 inauguration, President Biden outlined his own administration’s plans for educational relief in his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP). 

According to a release from the American Council on Education, the proposal expands higher education emergency relief funds and features $35 billion in potential funding for public institutions of higher education. The ARP states that it would provide millions of college students with up to an additional $1,700 in financial assistance from the university at which they are enrolled. 

Wong observed that proposals released by the Biden-Harris administration show an effort to provide another $25 billion or so in support funding to close the gap between institutions’ originally expressed need and the funding that the government has already provided. 

“Going forward,” he said, “my sense is that the Biden-Harris administration is going to double the amount of commitment to support higher education.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Brown has not decided whether to apply for the CRRSAA funds. In fact, Brown plans to apply, but has not done so yet. The Herald regrets the error.


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