About $ 4.7 billion, or three quarters of the $ 6.3 billion in student emergency funds that Congress approved under the CARES Act, has been sent to more than 2,000 colleges and universities, according to the Department of Education.
In addition, 3,482 institutions, or about two-thirds of the 5,136 that can pass on the scholarships to their students, have applied, up from half a week, the department said Inside Higher Ed.
But while this has been seen as positive even by critics, colleges and the group that represents campus grant administrators say the department interprets the language in the Congressional stimulus package so narrowly that many students are excluded from receiving aid.
While the controversy surrounding US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ decision to exclude College students illegally brought to the US as minors has been well publicized, with critics saying the ministry’s published guidelines also exclude other students for getting bad grades or defaulting on student loan payments.
In addition, Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said the guidelines the department issued a little over a week ago confused campus and slowed the delivery of scholarships into the hands of students in need, who have difficulty paying for housing and food.
The guidelines contained in a frequently asked question document Excluded from the department were so-called DACA students who were granted the right to legal work and a legal life in the USA under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program of the Obama administration.
Just as Congress Democrats and a variety of immigration and civil rights groups say DeVos has gone beyond what Congress intended, critics accuse DeVos of exaggerating in the guidelines that only those who qualify for state student aid Can receive emergency grants. The guidelines also state that those who did not complete a free federal student grant application would qualify if they were considered eligible for student grant.
Imposing the same requirements for receiving the scholarships as for receiving grant limits that can be received at a time when many students are in great need, Draeger said. The federal student grant requirements include a long list of conditions, from non-compliance with student loan payments to satisfactory academic progress, defined as the C average.
“A student who had a minor drug conviction, attended school and had to leave campus, and had significant relocation costs, would not qualify,” Draeger said in an email. “Even a student who had to buy a laptop to stay enrolled while their school went online would not sign up for selective service.”
He added, “Or what about a student who has defaulted on a loan, has not yet rehabilitated it, but has COVID-19 and has incurred significant medical expenses? Or how about a student who recently got married and fails a Social Security comparison because they haven’t updated their SSN information? Obviously you are a legitimate citizen, but you will have an SSN bug that will at least delay your granting. “
As with the DACA question, the question of whether Congress is only for those who qualify for study grants to receive the scholarships creates a partisan divide.
Republican aides have told Inside Higher Ed the CARES bill meant excluding DACA students, while Democrats, including several who wrote DeVos this week, insist that undocumented immigrant students receive emergency grants.
Similarly, it depends on who you ask if Congress wanted to limit which other students could receive the scholarships. And the answers are a bit contradictory.
Late Tuesday night, the Department of Education said it was doing what Congress wanted by limiting emergency grants to those eligible for Title IV student aid.
“The ministry is implementing the CARES law as it was written by Congress,” the statement said. “Of course, the institutions are free to allocate funds from their foundation or other funds to students who do not qualify for scholarships from the University Emergency Aid Fund. But until Congress changes the law, institutions cannot use federal taxes paid by legitimate American citizens and residents. “
But earlier Tuesday, Republican advisors on both the Senate Education and Appropriation Committees said Congress intended to let it go DeVos to decide who should receive emergency aid.
“Congress allowed the secretary to set criteria to assist the students most in need, and providing assistance to Title IV-eligible students appears to be a reasonable criterion,” said the education committee advisor.
Her Democratic counterparts on the two committees, as well as on the House Education Committee, did not comment on her intentions.
However, the CARES Act only states that institutions must use at least half of their stimulus funds for the emergency grants and does not place limits on student eligibility, said Draeger and David Baime, senior vice president of the American Association of Community Colleges for Government Relations and policy analysis. They saw this as an indication that Congress intended to disseminate the grants widely.
Meanwhile, of the colleges that donated the 10 largest amounts of emergency stimulus funds, six – Arizona State University, Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University, University of Central Florida, University of California, and Miami Dade College – Assuming they are still trying to figure out how to determine if a student is eligible and how the scholarships are distributed.
A seventh, Ohio State University, asks students to complete an emergency funds application requesting a description of the hardship they are facing. A university spokesman did not respond when asked how the university should determine if the student was eligible for the scholarship.
Nobody would comment on why they haven’t established a procedure yet. However, Draeger said the guidelines also raised a number of issues for colleges, such as:
Part of the problem for colleges is that the department has been sending conflicting messages to campus, AACC’s Baime said.
A week before the Q&A was released, DeVos said in phone calls with reporters and stakeholders that it would give colleges a wide margin of discretion in deciding who should receive the grants. In response, Draeger said, some universities began developing their plans to distribute the money to anyone who needed it, only to learn from the department that many were ineligible and get the colleges back to the drawing board to go.
“The Department of Education deserves credit for being quick to provide funding to universities,” said Baime. “At the same time, conflicting and often vague guidelines have made it difficult for some institutions to develop guidelines for the use of funds.”
Luis Maldonado, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities vice president for government relations and policy analysis, also noted that while three-quarters of the funds were spent, only about half of the eligible institutions received funds. He feared that most of those who have not received the grants are smaller institutions that are less able to apply for the money.
Waiting for guidance
Officials at several colleges, meanwhile, have given a mixed picture of attempts to get the students’ hands on the emergency scholarship.
A grant administrator, who is part of Draeger’s group and did not want to be identified, said that according to DeVos’ initial statements, her college was initially assuming that it could help all students. It was planned to distribute the funding widely in small amounts.
The college doesn’t want to start giving out the scholarships in small amounts now because if the program doesn’t expand to more people, there will be money left over.
But if they started giving larger scholarships and the faculty later admit more students, the institution has spent too much.
“We are not awarding anything at the moment,” said the administrator. “We’ll give that a little time to see what comes out.”
Luoluo Hong, assistant vice chancellor of student affairs and enrollment management for the California State University system, said figuring out all of this only increases the challenges of creating a new program when grant staff work remotely and students are off campus.
Some universities in the state of California give scholarships to those they know qualify because they have already received federal aid and then wait for further instructions from the department about how to use the leftovers. Some of the universities ask students who want help filling out a FAFSA, while other students just ask to certify their eligibility to certify ineligible.
Meanwhile, Cal State is trying to see if it can raise its own funds to provide scholarships to DACA and international students. “These dollars should help mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19 on students, so they should apply to all students,” Hong said.
The subject is less of a problem at Georgia State University, said Timothy Renick, senior vice president of student success at the institution in downtown Atlanta.
The university provided $ 560,000 in emergency grants from an existing fund of private donations during the pandemic. The state of Georgia is reaching out to 100,000 potential donors to replenish the remaining $ 300,000, he said.
It will distribute the CARES funds to those they know are qualified and use the private donations to help the rest, including DACA students.