Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Education intends to immediately distribute about $6 billion in coronavirus relief funding to colleges, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Thursday. 

  • Institutions must use this money to provide emergency grants to students who have been disadvantaged by the virus. They will get roughly $6 billion more at an unknown date to use for their expenses related to the coronavirus. 

  • The higher education sector is due to receive about $14 billion in federal aid, only a fraction of the $50 billion some groups had requested. 

Dive Insight:

Congress passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package last month meant to slow the economic turmoil the coronavirus caused. Of the $14 billion or so the legislation set aside for higher ed, lawmakers dedicated nearly $6.3 billion to colleges to pass on to students most in need.

DeVos announced in a conference call with reporters on Thursday that the department would distribute the roughly $6 billion as soon as possible. Students could use the funds for educational costs, including course materials, technology, and even food, housing, healthcare and child care.

Colleges will get a second wave of relief, about another $6 billion, at a later date that the secretary did not specify. DeVos said on the call the department wanted to move as quickly as possible to help needy students whom the virus affected.

To receive the funding, institutions need to sign an agreement that they will abide by the restrictions in the law that Congress approved and use the first portion of the money only for students.

The department determined how much money colleges would get through a formula included in the law, which is weighted heavily toward how many full-time Pell Grant recipients they enroll. A breakdown of how much colleges will likely receive is available here, and Education Dive created a sortable version of the table here

Students who are enrolled exclusively in distance learning programs were excluded in the calculations, as were part-time students who receive Pell Grants.

The stimulus money benefits all types of colleges — public and private nonprofit four-year colleges, community colleges and for-profits. High-ranking Senate Democrats wrote to DeVos on Tuesday, asking that she target nonprofit colleges with the funding and that she make sure for-profit colleges use their prospective portion of the aid to help students and not to grow their profits.

DeVos said on the call Thursday that the law does not prohibit for-profits from getting aid. 

Initially, higher ed groups, led by the American Council on Education (ACE), pressed Congress for tens of billions of dollars more in aid than it provided. ACE called the higher ed allocation “woefully inadequate.”

The secretary did not address what kind of support she would seek in another potential stimulus package, saying Congress just passed the last one. She noted, however, that the coronavirus has led many colleges to “embrace” online education in a way they otherwise would not.

“That will only continue to improve,” DeVos said

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