College students in Florida who are struggling to make ends meet to continue their studies amid the novel coronavirus public health crisis will soon be able to get some federal dollars to do so.
That’s thanks to the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security — CARES — Act, approved by Congress on March 27, which allocated $30.75 billion for an “Education Stabilization Fund,” split between K-12 and higher education, according to the American Council on Education.
Post-secondary institutions got about $14 billion. The stimulus bill indicated that approximately 90% of that, or about $12.6 billion, would go straight to colleges and universities, requiring them to give at least half, roughly $6.3 billion, to the students directly, said Carrie Warick, the director of policy and advocacy at the National College Attainment Network.
Nearly two weeks after lawmakers passed the CARES Act, the Department of Education announced Thursday it dispersed the funds to schools across the country, according to a letter from Secretary Betsy DeVos to college and university presidents.
But only the half that is for students — $6.3 billion for emergency aid grants — became immediately available.
“We are prioritizing this funding stream in order to get money in the hands of students in need as quickly as possible,” DeVos wrote.
Students will be able to pay for “expenses related to the disruption of campus operations,” like paying for WiFi at home, buying a laptop or books, finding a place to live and covering health charges incurred if a student or a loved one was diagnosed with COVID-19, Warick said.
The DOE indicated it will have guidance in the coming weeks on how colleges and universities can spend the other half of the money that they will eventually get.
The remaining $1.4 billion or so of the total $14 billion fund for higher education will be split into different buckets, including some directed to minority-serving institutions.
Distribution of the federal funds
To distribute the money, the Department of Education used a formula specified by Congress, based on student enrollment: 75% on the full-time enrollment of Pell Grant recipients and 25% on the full-time enrollment of students who don’t receive Pell Grants. The calculation excludes students who were already exclusively online.
Schools have a lot of leeway to decide how to hand out the funds to students, Warick said. The only requirement is for students to spend the money on food, housing, course materials, technology, healthcare, child care or others costs incurred due to the pandemic.
However, DeVos encouraged universities and colleges to prioritize students with the greatest need. It was recommended the schools established a maximum funding threshold for each student “to ensure that these funds are distributed as widely as possible.”
According to a spreadsheet provided to the Herald by Ben Miller at the Center for American Progress, 254 schools in Florida will get funding. Florida’s total is fourth behind California, Texas and New York — half of the state’s $740 million must go to students.
The University of Central Florida tops the list at about $51 million. It’s followed by Miami Dade College with about $49 million, Florida International University with about $38 million, the University of South Florida with about $34 million and the University of Florida with $31 million.
Nationwide, Arizona State will receive the most with about $65 million, trailed by Penn State with about $55 million and Rutgers with about $54 million. No. 4 on that list is UCF, and MDC is No. 5.
In total, about $9 billion will go to public institutions, while about $2.5 billion will go to private, nonprofit institutions, and $1.1 billion will go to private for-profit institutions, according to NCAN.
Colleges and universities can sign an agreement online and will get the funds as early as the middle of next week, Warick said. Then it’s up to how fast institutions can move to transfer the money to students.
Schools are still figuring it out. The University of Miami, which will get roughly $8 million, and MDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to press release sent Friday, FIU is “currently working on a plan and application process for students to access these grants” and expects to have details by the end of next week.
Will the funds be enough?
In mid-March, universities and colleges across the country started shutting down their campuses and migrating to remote learning in an effort to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Many have announced they will keep their classes online through the summer and some fear they will have to do it past the fall.
This has caused a financial storm, as some schools have decided to issue prorated refunds to students for fees like housing, dining and tuition.
That, coupled with the expectation the enrollment numbers will drop significantly in the fall, has higher education institutions looking at a bleak future, Warick said.
Will the CARES Act funding be enough? It’s too early to tell, but some officials seem to think it won’t be.
“I cannot yet tell you whether it’s enough,” said Warick. “But I know some of the top higher education associations were asking for $45 billion and they only got $14 billion. So what we’re hearing from some higher education associations is that this is not enough.”
In her Thursday letter, DeVos encouraged institutions that might serve an affluent population of students, to share.
“If you determine that your institution’s students do not have significant financial need at this time, I would ask that you consider giving your allocation to those institutions within your state or region that might have significant need,” she wrote.
How much money will Florida colleges get?
Here are the top 50 Florida universities and colleges and the amount of funding each can access as early as next week.
Of which must go to students
University of Central Florida
Miami Dade College
Florida International University
University of South Florida
University of Florida
Florida State University
Florida Atlantic University
Palm Beach State College
Florida Career College
Hillsborough Community College
Florida State College at Jacksonville
Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University
St. Petersburg College
University of North Florida
Florida Gulf Coast University
Indian River State College
Full Sail University
Florida Southwestern State College
Eastern Florida State College
Seminole State College Of Florida
University of Miami
Santa Fe College
Tallahassee Community College
Daytona State College
Nova Southeastern University
University of Tampa
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
University of West Florida
Pasco-Hernando State College
Polk State College
Pensacola State College
Florida National University
College of Central Florida
State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota
Saint Leo University
Southern Technical College
South Florida Institute Of Technology
Florida Institute of Technology
St. Johns River State College
Miami International University of Art & Design
Northwest Florida State College
Source: U.S. Department of Education