Colleges Seek More Than $50 Billion to Weather Virus Disruptions

Colleges are facing huge costs from the fallout of the new coronavirus on campuses, but emergency aid figures proposed in Congress so far are wholly inadequate to address the scale of the challenge, higher education lobby groups say.

Postsecondary groups are calling on lawmakers to provide between $50 billion and $60 billion in assistance to keep colleges solvent in the short-term.

The latest version of a Senate Republican coronavirus-relief package released Sunday(H.R. 748) included about $6 billion for higher education, including $3 billion in assistance to colleges and $3 billion in aid to students. The bill was rejected Sunday on a procedural vote and bipartisan negotiations continued overnight.

“It’s a drop in the bucket,” said Jon Fansmith, director of government relations at the American Council on Education. “It’s nowhere near what’s needed just to replace part of the losses colleges have experienced.”

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
A statue stands outside the Low Memorial Library at the Columbia University campus in New York.

Colleges across the country have closed campuses to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Refunds to students for room and board and cleaning costs have hit the budgets of institutions hard, as has the loss of revenue from campus events that generate revenue for schools and from parking charges.

The rapid switch to online instruction for many courses has also created new costs for colleges. The American Council on Education and other higher-education member groups have requested that lawmakers provide $7.8 billion in funding to help colleges with new technology for online courses.

And in the coming months, higher education leaders expect losses in revenue from summer and fall enrollment as well as new pressure on support from states.

Facing Layoffs, Closures

College lobby groups were mostly on board with provisions in the Republican bill providing new flexibility for rules governing student aid programs. But they said without more direct support for higher education, campuses could soon face big layoffs or even closures.

“There’s a double punch of simultaneously massive expenses combined with precipitous decline of revenue,” said Craig Lindwarm, vice president for congressional and governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. “We need federal support in order to financially stabilize the circumstances of schools.”

Democratic proposals have also been well short of what colleges are seeking. Legislation (S. 3489) backed by Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, would authorize $3 billion in emergency education aid.

That bill would provide $1.2 billion to colleges and K-12 schools to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Another $1.2 billion in the measure would direct emergency aid to college students affected by campus closures to pay for costs such as housing, food, and health care.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Kreighbaum at akreighbaum@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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