University administrators are grappling with whether to apply for $4.7 million in government aid through the new coronavirus relief package, which would provide support to students but potentially trigger backlash.
Much of the aid, made available by the Department of Education through the Higher Education Relief Fund, must go towards financial aid grants for students or towards health and safety measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Yale is weighing whether to apply for the funds after the DOE released its guidance, Richard Jacob, Associate Vice President for Federal and State Relations, told the News. Jacob did not specify when Yale would divulge its decision, but said administrators needed a “little time” to decide.
The decision of whether to apply for the funds is fraught. With Yale’s endowment valued at $31.2 billion as of June 30, the University might draw criticism for taking the money when those funds could instead be diverted to other institutions in need. Last spring, when the federal government offered a first round of aid, Harvard University faced criticism for accepting the funds. Yale subsequently declined the $6.9 million it was offered, asking the government to instead support colleges and universities in greater peril. But given that most of the federal grant would fund student aid, some argue that if Yale does not accept the money, it must provide that support from the University’s coffers.
“Yale’s endowment, the second-largest university endowment in the country, certainly affords the university the ability to meet these basic needs of students without federal assistance through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund,” Yale College Council Vice President Reilly Johnson ’22 wrote in an email to the News. “But if Yale will not pledge to meet these needs from the endowment, then it has the obligation to apply for the funds on behalf of its students.”
The DOE issued a press release on Jan. 14 to announce that $21.2 billion was available for higher education as a part of a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill signed into law last December. In the DOE allocations data table, Yale was awarded a total of $9.3 million in federal funding, but is only eligible for half of the money due to a stipulation on institutions who pay an endowment tax because they have resources greater than $500,000 per each full-time student. Jacob said that Yale will be required to use the money for student financial aid grants, sanitation, personal protective equipment or other expenses to keep campus safe amid the pandemic.
According to Dan Madzelan, Associate Vice President of Government Relations for the American Council on Education, Yale will have to devote at least $3,425,570 of the $4.7 million to student aid.
Allocations to institutions are based on internal DOE formulas, with the federal government providing a minimum amount of funding that each institution would be required to devote towards financial aid grants for their students.
Still, Johnson explained that Yale’s decision to forgo the funding last spring had far-reaching implications for students.
“The CARES Act delegates the responsibility for allocating COVID-19 relief to students to colleges and universities rather than doing it directly,” Johnson told the News. “That means that when Yale declined CARES Act funding last year, it turned down money that was meant to go directly to students’ basic needs, including housing, food, technology, childcare and healthcare.”
With the new round of aid, the University can once again decide whether to accept or decline the funds. University Provost Scott Strobel previously told the News that the pandemic’s effects would cost Yale more than $250 million.
The Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan includes $170 billion for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education.
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