Dive Brief: 

  • Groups representing historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions (MSIs) are urging Congress to give these schools at least $1.5 billion in emergency aid to help them recover from financial losses sustained due to the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • House Democrats unveiled a $2.5 trillion stimulus bill that would allocate that amount to HBCUs and other MSIs. Last week, several higher ed associations urged the Senate to include $1.5 billion in aid for these schools in its emergency spending package.  
  • The crisis could imperil some colleges, observers say, especially those that have had to issue refunds for room and board and bear the upfront costs of moving instruction online. 

Dive Insight:

Most colleges are finishing the academic year remotely as the coronavirus spreads throughout the U.S. As of Tuesday afternoon, the country had more than 50,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University. 

The transition online has taken a toll on colleges. In a press release last week, the office of Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., noted that HBCUs and MSIs have given out emergency aid to low-income students and made unexpected investments to support online learning, such as purchasing WiFi hotspots for students without reliable internet access in their homes. 

Yet these colleges typically have fewer resources than predominantly-white institutions, even though many serve high shares of low-income students. 

“In this time of tremendous uncertainty, in the midst of this ongoing health emergency, it is imperative that neither our Nation’s HBCUs and MSIs, nor their students find themselves a casualty of the disease COVID-19,” Harry Williams, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said in the statement from Booker’s office. 

The Thurgood Marshall Fund, which lobbies on behalf of HBCUs and MSIs, criticized an earlier Senate spending package, which failed to advance, for not including enough funding for HBCUs and MSIs. 

The organization is supporting a bill House Democrats announced Monday that would allocate $1.5 billion in emergency aid to HBCUs and MSIs. 

Overall, the proposed package would pump $9.5 billion into the higher education sector to help schools cover the cost of responding to the coronavirus, including help with the transition online and lost revenue. 

Several higher education associations are calling on Congress to give the sector at least $7.8 billion in emergency aid to “ensure that institutions are supported in the transition to distance learning.” 

Earlier this month, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded its outlook for the higher education sector from stable to negative. Its analysts predicted that the crisis will immediately stress institutions’ budgets and cause “unprecedented enrollment uncertainty” in the near future. 

A recent survey from consulting firm EAB of some 250 enrollment leaders found that three-quarters of them were highly concerned about filling their fall 2020 classes because of the coronavirus. Related travel restrictions could make it particularly hard to recruit international students, which some colleges rely on to keep their finances stable. 

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