Many colleges have started distributing federal coronavirus aid to students, survey finds

Dive Brief:

  • A new survey from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) offers some insight into how many colleges have started distributing federal emergency grants to students affected by the coronavirus.  
  • Only a fraction (6%) of the 237 responding colleges haven’t given out any funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the poll found.
  • Higher ed leaders have accused the U.S. Department of Education of bungling relief efforts, saying it has complicated getting the money to students. 

Dive Insight:

The Education Department began releasing more than $6 billion in CARES grant money earmarked for students in early April. 

Distributing the grants to students has proved complex. Through guidance in late April, the department limited the funds to those who are eligible for federal financial aid, which excluded unauthorized and international students. After being sued over the decision, and announcing that the initial guidance was legally unenforceable, the department issued a rule with the same restriction but carrying the force of law. A federal judge in Washington state recently ruled that the regulation wouldn’t apply to colleges there. 

College administrators and other higher ed leaders have said the department’s moves box out a particularly disadvantaged population of students, as well as those who have not completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the easiest way to gauge Title IV eligibility.

But the drama around the CARES funding has seemingly not stopped colleges from handing out the grants. About 94% of colleges said they had distributed any amount of CARES funds, according to NASFAA’s survey. This is an increase from a month ago, when the group found only 28% of responding colleges had started distributing the money

Last month, 579 colleges answered the question of whether they had distributed CARES funds yet. As one possible reason for the higher response rate, NASFAA spokesperson Erin Powers wrote in an email that the organization’s outreach for the May survey was more targeted than for June. Powers also noted that the June response rate is “more in alignment” with what the organization usually sees.

More than half of colleges that gave out their CARES funds have distributed at least 75% of them, the poll shows.

Of the dozen or so respondents that haven’t dispensed any grants, one third said they were figuring out the proper policies and procedures for awarding them. A similar share cited “other” reasons for not yet doing so.

Only 16% of those colleges said they were still awaiting guidance from the Education Department. The survey closed one day after the department issued its new rule.

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