Federal pandemic funding keeps UND from taking on debt

·3 min read

Oct. 30—UND has received millions of dollars through various federal COVID relief programs which have been used to sustain the school and prevent it from taking on debt, while providing assistance to students at the same time.

Funds initially came from the CARES Act in March 2020, then continued on late that year with the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. Combined, UND received more than $51 million through the programs, which have varying degrees of flexibility in how the money can be spent. According to Jed Shivers, vice president of finance and operations at UND, the funds have shored up the schools finances at a time when universities around the country saw revenue streams dry up.

"We could have burned through whatever money we had in reserve pretty quickly throughout this process, so it really prevented us from doing that," Shivers said.

The first round of funding came from the state's allocation of CARES Act funding. UND received nearly $21 million, all of which have been used for pandemic mitigation purposes. Those costs include HVAC and air quality improvements on campus, which came in to the tune of $6.5 million alone. Other costs included technology for the transfer to a hybrid education model at $5 million and $1.8 million in personal protective equipment, among others.

In fiscal year 2021, UND sustained a revenue loss of more than $22 million. The amount was derived by following a recommended federal formula that compares 2021 revenue to the average revenues of fiscal years 2017, 2018 and 2019. Leading the way were losses in athletics revenue, which came in at $6.8 million, followed by dining, with $5.6 million and housing with $3.8 million.

Shivers said Gov. Doug Burgum and the Legislature recognized the need to pass along funding for universities.

"I can't emphasize enough how important the state has been in this process, they really showed terrific leadership," Shivers said, about that state's allocation of funds to NDUS institutions.

Additional funding with looser strings came when the CRRSA Act was passed in December 2020. Those funds, referred to as Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds or HEERF, rolled out in three tranches. HEERF funds allowed the university to assist students, as well as offset revenue losses and cover operating expenses. Through fiscal year 2021, UND spent $5.4 million on assistance to students. Another $10 million will be spent on students in the 2022 fiscal year.

When it came to providing financial assistance to students, HEERF funds paid for a number of things, including personal computers for when students had to study online. Grants were also available for students, though they were limited to undergraduates who met certain conditions.

More than 6,000 students received emergency financial aid grants through Sept. 30. The grants prioritized low-income students eligible for Pell Grants, students who used the food pantry at UND and high-need students, among others. Grants ranged from between $550 to $1,100.

UND will spend about $12 million of its HEERF funds in fiscal year 2022 on additional pandemic mitigation efforts, operating costs and on offsetting revenue losses. Shivers said it is important to keep those funds in reserve.

"We have to make sure that we have sufficient dollars in reserves to deal with whatever potential economic effects may occur, as we go through what we think of as the big second wave of the pandemic," he said.

The funds have prevented the need for UND to incur debt, to make it through the continuing pandemic.

"If you look around the country, you have state universities having to take out loans to make it through this," Shivers said. "That is something that we did not have to do."

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