Dive Brief:

  • The National Education Association is calling on the Senate to take up the education funding measures spelled out in House Democrats’ Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. 
  • Including that funding in the next coronavirus relief package could save some 153,000 jobs in public higher education, the association notes in a new report.
  • Education groups continue to press Congress for more funding. Higher ed organizations say the $14 billion given to the sector in the last round of relief was not enough.

Dive Insight:

Nearly 1.9 million education jobs could be lost through the 2022 fiscal year as a result of the decrease in state general fund revenues, NEA projects. Of those, 275,541 are in public higher education. 

Already, the sector is shedding jobs. Employment at two- and four-year colleges was down by nearly 8% in April from a year ago, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. From January to April, college employment slid 9%. Total nonfarm employment, a measure of the broader economy, fell nearly 13% during that time.

The NEA didn’t specify which job categories would likely be saved or restored, though a spokesperson noted in an email that the estimates “capture all jobs associated with public 2- and 4-year higher education institutions.” A recent report from a higher ed human resources group noted that nonexempt staff is most at risk of losing their jobs or hours because of the pandemic.

The HEROES Act would allocate $37 billion to higher ed, and it aims to protect appropriations to the sector by requiring states to maintain their funding levels in order to access their slice of the money. The allocation would follow $14 billion sent to the sector through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

Higher ed groups have said colleges need at least $47 billion to effectively respond to the pandemic, citing a loss of auxiliary revenue, potential enrollment declines and the need to offer students more financial aid in light of the economic crisis.

Small colleges can also access funding through the Paycheck Protection Program. But in that case, higher ed groups have been lobbying lawmakers to exempt student-workers from employee counts, saying they misrepresent those institutions’ roles as employers. 

Colleges may also get some funding through an education block grant program within the CARES Act. The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund gives state leaders discretion over how to allocate the money across K-12 and higher ed. New Jersey, for instance, plans to use all of its funds — $68.8 million — for its public colleges and universities. 

With many states slashing funding to higher ed, some argue the provisions of the HEROES Act may not be enough. In a brief Thursday, the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, harkens to the spending cutbacks and tuition increases resulting from the Great Recession. “Further cuts to this already underfunded system will be devastating,” they wrote, asking lawmakers to allocate at least $46 billion to higher ed via the states, with requirements for states to maintain funding levels and for more institutional reporting.

Higher ed systems are already absorbing steep budget cuts as states react to lost revenue from income and sales taxes. That has led to layoffs, furloughs and other types of personnel cutbacks. The Chronicle of Higher Education estimates at least 48,000 employees across higher ed have been affected by these actions, though they note the figure is a “significant undercount.”

NEA, too, says its 153,000 jobs projection could be lower or higher depending on how institutions use future relief funds. The association supposes state funding to education through their general funds could decrease by $200 billion nationally over the next three years, with offsets from the CARES Act.

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