When President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law last month, public discourse was dominated by the allure of $1,200 stimulus checks. However, in addition to assisting individual Americans, the CARES Act also secured roughly $12.5 billion in financial resources for colleges and universities who may be struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The University of San Francisco is slated to receive $7,293,888 from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund portion of the act. According to the U.S. Department of Education, educational institutions receiving support must set aside at least 50% of the federal assistance to fund and support emergency financial aid grants to students. These institutions must also ensure that all remaining funds go toward related costs and expenses incurred while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and are required to sign a certification form agreeing to these terms and conditions.
The amount each institution received from the act was calculated based on student enrollment and the number of Pell Grant-eligible students.
On April 23, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Shirley McGuire sent an email to the University community stating that USF had not yet retrieved any of the roughly $7.3 million earmarked for the school.
McGuire is heading a working group that has been appointed to retrieve the money, specifically the $3,646,944 that will be used to support emergency grants for students, according to Kellie Samson, head of media relations for the University.
The email from McGuire noted that the working group — which consists of administrators from Accounting and Business Services, the Office of Student Financial Services, and the Office of Contracts and Grants — started the certification process to receive the funds last week and aims to follow Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ recommendations for distributing the first half of the federal assistance. These guidelines include, “directing the resources to students [to cover] food, housing, coursework, technology, healthcare, and child care needs.”
In a press release dated April 9, DeVos said, “I would like to encourage the leadership of each institution to prioritize your students with the greatest need, but at the same time consider establishing a maximum funding threshold for each student to ensure that these funds are distributed as widely as possible.”
In the same press release, DeVos said that the Department of Education is prioritizing funding for the emergency financial aid grants in order to help students as quickly as possible.
However, not all students are able to receive emergency financial aid grants. The Department of Education clarified on April 21 that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients would not be eligible to receive funding.
According to McGuire, “[Schools] have been given broad latitude in how they distribute the funds.”
All funds designated for emergency student financial aid must be disbursed to students within one year of receiving the funds, and students may use the money in any manner.
McGuire’s email did not confirm the University’s plans for the remaining $3.6 million not restricted to emergency student financial aid. However, McGuire said that these funds could potentially be used to offset the cost of “emergency-related expenses such as the approximately $5.5 million in prorated refunds that USF made to students living in our residence halls.”
In order to receive the second half of their payment, institutions must already have signed the certification form and applied for the initial funding meant for students, as they come from different funding streams.
McGuire noted that the American Council on Education estimated that enrollment at institutions of higher education across the country will drop by 15% and would result in a $23 billion loss in revenue nationwide. McGuire also predicted that the CARES Act only represents the first round of stimulus money that higher education institutions would need as a result of this crisis.
McGuire expressed that the CARES Act would provide relief to this year’s budget shortfall as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. “[USF] is confronting significant challenges to our budget and operations next year and beyond due to uncertainty surrounding future enrollments and the global economy,” McGuire said.
In a joint written statement to the Foghorn, Vice Provost for Institutional Budget, Planning, and Analytics Jeff Hamrick and Vice President for Business and Finance Charlie Cross noted the University has already taken steps to curtail the financial impacts of COVID-19. They confirmed a university-wide hiring freeze, an order to limiting discretionary spending, the decision to defer capital projects, and the decision that members of the University’s leadership team would not see increases in their salary until fall 2020 at the earliest.
Hamrick and Cross also stated that enrollment may decrease in some areas. “There is some preliminary evidence that the University of San Francisco may struggle to achieve its initially-budgeted summer and fall 2020 graduate [student] enrollment targets […] Right now, deposits for the undergraduate program are tracking to target.”
The statement continued, “However, the cone of uncertainty is quite large. Depending on how the university responds to a variety of circumstances that it cannot right now completely foresee (e.g., by moving all classes to a hybrid modality, or by moving all classes entirely online, or by treating every residence hall room as a single room), yield of new first-year first-time students or new transfer students may break in an unexpected direction, potentially right before fall 2020 census.”