College to distribute CARES Act funding to qualifying students

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In mid-July, the College will disburse the first half of the $1.5 million in federal funds made available by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to students receiving financial aid who will be enrolled during the 2020-21 academic year. The funds are part of the $14 billion allocated to institutions of higher education in the act, which provides a total of over $2 trillion in economic relief and was signed into law on March 27. 

Several universities – including Harvard, Princeton and Yale – recently returned the funds after receiving criticism for accepting federal relief given their multi-billion-dollar endowments.

After several weeks of deliberation, the College has decided to accept the funds, which will go entirely to individual students as cash grants. Provost Dukes Love said that senior administrators engaged in a series of conversations about whether or not to accept the money, but ultimately decided it was in the best interest of the student body to take it.

“This was an opportunity to take funds that were really designated to support students and to make sure that we got that money in the students’ hands,” he said.      

In mid-July, the first round will be disbursed to qualifying students. While U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently barred students protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) from receiving CARES Act aid, the College will make the same level of support available to DACA and international students who receive financial aid, though the source of funding will differ, according to Love.

Meanwhile, the College is currently in the process of applying for the second round of funding. While schools will be permitted to use the later funds to offset unforeseen institutional expenses brought on by the pandemic, the College will again pass all $750,000 directly to students who are facing increased financial pressures. 

“The funding is meant to support students as they respond to unanticipated expenses that resulted from the pandemic and summer expenses related to preparing for the new academic year,” Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01 wrote in an email to the Record

The College’s decision will provide needed support to low and middle-income students who are coming up against unforeseen costs in the midst of this pandemic, Love said. “Our philosophy is [that] we’re an institution organized around supporting [all] students,” he said. “Once we’ve committed to supporting students by enrolling them, we really feel like it’s our job to do everything we can to continue to support their education.”

It is not yet clear how individuals’ cash grants will be determined. According to Creighton, students will receive specific information on how the funds will be allocated and distributed next month via email.

Like several of the College’s peer institutions that have opted to return the aid, the College is well-situated to weather the financial storm of COVID-19 due to its sizable endowment, Love said. Still, he added, the CARES funds will allow the administration to redirect the College’s funds to preserving jobs and limiting budget reductions in other areas.               

“We’re trying as an institution to make the kinds of decisions that we’ll feel proud about a year down the road,” he said. “And that’s really hard to do in real time. That’s true of the way we’re thinking about supporting staff, faculty and students through this. That same kind of decision-making guided our response to supporting students. So we’ll get pieces of this wrong, inevitably. But that’s really the guiding principle.”