Biden proposes $35B in coronavirus relief for colleges

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • President-elect Joe Biden has proposed a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package to send $35 billion to colleges.
  • However, the funding would be limited to public two- and four-year colleges and private minority-serving institutions, a restriction not present in previous relief legislation.
  • Colleges would also likely benefit from local and state support under Biden’s plan.

Dive Insight:

coronavirus relief for colleges

The sector has suffered since the first substantive coronavirus aid bill was passed in March. Last spring, many colleges returned to room and board money, and public colleges faced steep cuts in state funding. Higher education enrollment is generally down, with the most significant decreases at two-year schools.

Though Congress in December approved another relief measure, which gave colleges about $23 billion, it was far from the $120 billion that higher ed groups deemed the minimum.

Biden’s proposal, unveiled Thursday, provides a total of $170 billion to K-12 and higher ed, the bulk of which would “help [K-12] schools to safely reopen,” a summary of the plan states. It primarily focuses on stimulating the economy and implementing a successful vaccination strategy.

According to the proposal, the direct support for public colleges and MSIs would also “provide millions of students up to an additional $1,700 in financial assistance from their college”. Most private, nonprofit colleges appear to be excluded from this funding, however. The president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, representing these institutions, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

The former vice president also recommended the creation of a “Hardest Hit Education Fund,” a $5 billion pot that governors could distribute among early childhood, secondary and postsecondary programs harmed by the pandemic’s financial fallout.

Additionally, the proposal gives $350 billion to local and state governments to help mitigate funding gaps. This could help cushion further higher ed cuts, which are common during economic downturns.

Democratic lawmakers have primarily praised the plan. The party will take control over both Congressional chambers and the White House this month. Little criticism has emerged from Republicans, though Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took aim at the proposal on Twitter, saying it couldn’t pass “quickly.”

National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities President Barbara Mistick said in a statement Friday that her organization was “very disappointed” that most private institutions were excluded from Biden’s plan.

“Most of the more than 1,700 private, nonprofit colleges and universities nationwide are critical economic drivers in their communities, often serving as the largest employer and source of economic and cultural activity,” Mistick said. This article has been updated with a comment from the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

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