Higher Education Asks Congress For More Relief Money

When the pandemic swept the nation last year, it all kinds of industries and sectors, closing restaurants and forcing many workers to work from home. But the effect on higher education was a unique disruption, and it came at a cost. Now, institutions of higher education are asking for more money in the next Covid relief package.

Colleges and universities were forced to rapidly shift instruction online last spring and residential colleges had to close their residence halls, leaving many students scrambling to leave campus in the middle of the semester. 

Some institutions had to pay more in technology expenses to get courses online, though with many schools offering online courses and using learning management systems, that wasn’t the biggest expense. Because students left residence halls, many colleges and universities were forced to issue refunds for housing and meal plans. And that was a big hit to schools’ budgets, especially the many that have invested in building new campus housing facilities and have debt obligations. On top of that, schools lost other revenue from auxiliary services, such as athletic events.

Luckily, Congress stepped in March and passed the CARES Act that sent about $14 billion to higher education, with half going to the institutions to offset costs incurred due to the pandemic. But that didn’t last long, especially as schools were planning for the fall. 

To bring students back to campus safely, colleges and universities were going to have to implement social distancing policies, which could include reducing the number of students in residence halls and therefore reduced revenue. Additionally, institutions were faced with other increased costs to purchase masks for students, sanitization supplies, and more.

All of this was made worse by dips in enrollment at many colleges. Congress stepped in again in December and provided just under $23 billion in relief aid to higher education, but many say that is not enough due to the increased costs. 

The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) published an analysis of the financial hit the 199 public research universities they represent took from the pandemic. In what APLU described as conservative estimates, they said their institutions lost $6.5 billion in revenue in the spring and summer, and an additional $11.2 billion in the fall. Once you include the $3.1 billion in expenses for safety measures, they say their universities lost a total of $20.8 billion, not counting any state budget cuts which are incredibly likely if states don’t receive aid from the federal government.

The American Council on Education, on behalf of a number of higher education associations including APLU, wrote to congressional leadership this month requesting more money. They wrote that the higher education sector has at least $97 billion in unmet need from the pandemic. APLU represents just a fraction of institutions so if their numbers are similar at other institutions, the impact would be significant.

Congress is currently considering another relief package, with President Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal as the framework. However, his proposal still wouldn’t meet the $97 billion ask. He has proposed another $38 billion for higher education. At the time, it is unclear if that number will stick when Congress acts.

To view article, please visit: https://www.forbes.com/sites/wesleywhistle/2021/01/31/higher-education-asks-congress-for-more-relief-money/?sh=58a8233b6a8f