Harvard, Other Elite Colleges Yield to Calls to Reject Virus Aid

Universities with “massive endowments” would be required to spend more on student assistance before receiving federal coronavirus relief, under legislation that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said in a tweet Wednesday he would introduce.

“I’m tired of hearing from university execs that “it wouldn’t be prudent” to tap their endowments in this crisis,” Hawley said in a subsequent tweet. “Fine. But don’t come begging federal taxpayers for money while you sit on billions in endowment funds and students suffer.”

Hawley posted the tweet shortly before Harvard University and other elite colleges yielded to pressure from the Trump administration and turned down federal assistance provided by the CARES Act (Public Law 116-136). The law provided about $6 billion in direct aid to students and another $6 billion in support for colleges.

Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Bloomberg
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)

The Education Department in recent weeks began to release that money to colleges. But President Donald Trump on Tuesday demanded that Harvard University return roughly $8.6 million it was set to receive. Harvard said in a statement Wednesday it would pass up the funds.

On Wednesday, Stanford University also said it would pass on about $7.3 million the school was allocated to receive in CARES Act assistance. And Princeton University later said it would also turn down about $2.4 million in federal funding it was set to receive.

Existential Threat

In a series of tweets, Stanford said the coronavirus pandemic posed an existential threat to many smaller colleges and universities that should be prioritized for federal support.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos praised the Stanford decision and issued a statement calling on other colleges with large endowments to not accept federal coronavirus relief.

“Congress required by law that taxpayer Emergency Relief funds be given to all colleges and universities, no matter their wealth,” she said. “But as I’ve said all along, wealthy institutions that do not primarily serve low-income students do not need or deserve additional taxpayer funds. This is common sense.”

That funding should be used instead on students who need support the most, DeVos said. She also called on Congress to change the law so federal assistance doesn’t go to wealthy institutions.

The Education Department this week issued new guidance to colleges in a Q&A document that stated only Title IV eligible students would qualify for assistance from the CARES Act. That means undocumented students and international students wouldn’t get support from the law.

Princeton, in announcing its decision, said its aid packages would cover both groups of students.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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