CARES Act Review Highlights Lack of Support for Public Colleges

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter 

While the ongoing pandemic and stalled congressional negotiations over additional coronavirus aid continues to squeeze the fiscal belts of higher education institutions, a new report found public colleges were provided with insufficient aid through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The review — conducted by Accountable.US, a nonprofit government watchdog group — warns that the lack of sufficient funding could promote tuition hikes, and threaten higher education affordability and access for students.

The CARES Act provided more than $14 billion in emergency funding to higher education and was made available to institutions through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), which has faced a number of legal challenges over guidance and implementation issues. NASFAA assembled a timeline that accounts for the enactment, aid distribution and updated guidance provided by the Department of Education (ED) for the CARES Act. 

In the Accountable.US survey of the largest universities in the U.S. — conducted across 44 states — found 36 states did not receive enough HEERF funding to cover reported COVID-induced revenue losses or budget cuts and shortfalls.

“Historically, colleges and universities facing budget shortfalls, revenue losses, or budget cuts have had to increase tuition rates for students,” the report reads. “These increases threaten affordability and access to higher education — particularly for students of color, low-income students, and those from non-traditional backgrounds.”

The report also provides a state-by-state breakdown and specifically names the University of Maryland, Rutgers University, and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities as having the largest funding gaps due to expected budget shortfalls that were only minorly reduced by HEERF aid for fiscal year 2020. For fiscal year 2021, the report found that Michigan State University, the University of Colorado System, and Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus were found to have the largest financial gaps.

Back in April — at the outset of negotiations into an aid package to follow the CARES Act — NASFAA joined more than three dozen higher education organizations in sending a letter to congressional leaders that called for an additional $46.6 billion in aid to be divided equally between students and institutions.

Additional aid talks have since stalled, and it remains unclear whether Congress will administer another round of coronavirus relief before the presidential election.


Publication Date: 9/21/2020

Jean M | 9/21/2020 12:59:56 PM

I agree with the statements from Jeff A. - there is no feasible way for the government to provide "sufficient" funding for colleges or any other entity that has suffered economically through the pandemic. Further, is the federal government even responsible for this funding? A college education is not a secured, fundamental "right" and is certainly not guaranteed to anyone in America. There are, however, many, many private foundation awards and scholarship opportunities available to a student who makes the effort and seeks these alternate avenues of funding their education - no matter their skin color or socio-economic status.

Jeff A | 9/21/2020 11:12:05 AM

This is pretty ridiculous.
Pandemic funding for most ALL colleges has been insufficient.
It is has been insufficient for most companies.
There is no way to gov't fund the entire cost of the pandemic, and public colleges are no exception.

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