Private colleges and universities are dismayed that President-elect Joe Biden might be leaving most of them out of getting additional help in the coronavirus relief package he will be proposing upon taking office Wednesday.
Causing the concern is that they were not mentioned in a fact sheet Biden released Thursday about the $1.9 trillion plan, including $35 billion of additional relief for public colleges and universities and private colleges serving minority students.
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“The president-elect’s plan will ensure colleges have critical resources to implement public health protocols, execute distance learning plans, and provide emergency grants to students in need,” the fact sheet said. “This $35 billion in funding will be directed to public institutions, including community colleges, as well as public and private Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving Institutions.”
The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the Association of American Universities both said they have reached out to Biden’s administration asking for clarification. A spokesman for Biden’s transition team hasn’t responded to several inquiries seeking clarification since Thursday.
“NAICU is very disappointed that the majority of the nation’s private, nonprofit colleges and universities were excluded from the Biden plan,” said Barbara Mistick, president of the group representing private, nonprofit institutions. “The global coronavirus pandemic has indiscriminately impacted all sectors of our nation, including private, nonprofit higher education. This awful virus does not distinguish among types of colleges and neither should our unified national fight against this disease.”
While public universities applauded Biden for proposing additional funding, they said even more is needed. Combined with the $21.2 billion in December’s relief package, the additional $35 billion would still fall short of the $120 billion associations representing public and private universities have said they need. “We look forward to seeing the specifics of the proposal in the coming days and encourage consideration of additional resources both for institutions as well as for the cutting-edge research many of them conduct on behalf of the American people,” Association of Public and Land-grant Universities president Peter McPherson said in a statement last week.
Advocates for student loan borrowers were disappointed the outline of the coronavirus relief package didn’t include large cancellation of student debt.
On Saturday, incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain reiterated in a memo to others in Biden’s senior staff that the administration plans to continue the moratorium on student loan borrowers from making payments beyond Jan. 30. The memo outlined a series of executive orders the administration will issue upon taking office, including rejoining the Paris climate agreement and reversing President Trump’s travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries, which is opposed by colleges.
While applauding Biden for proposing additional coronavirus relief aid, Ashley Harrington, federal advocacy director for the Center for Responsible Lending, called the proposal “not sufficient, including for people weighed down by student debt.”
Meanwhile, there was controversy over the Education Department’s release of $22.1 billion in aid for colleges and universities in the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last month.
According to a recording of a meeting last Thursday between a top department official and higher education leaders, non-U.S. citizens, including so-called Dreamers and international students, are not eligible for emergency grants created for college students in the latest round of funding, after the department also denied them the grants in the CARES Act last spring.
The Education Department came under fire last year when it denied two groups of students access to emergency student grants in the CARES Act. It said students couldn’t get the grants if they were ineligible for federal student aid according to Section 484 of the Higher Education Act, because of factors like having low grades or having defaulted on student loans. The department also denied aid to students brought illegally as children to the U.S. because a provision in the Clinton administration’s 1996 welfare reform bill that excludes non-U.S. citizens from receiving federal benefits, which then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said included the emergency grants to help students pay for such things as food and shelter during the pandemic.
The Education Department said on Thursday it is allowing some more students to be eligible for the grants than in the CARES Act, by lifting the prohibition on the first group — the students ineligible for federal student aid. That left up in the air if the prohibition on the second group, the noncitizens receiving the emergency grants, was also being lifted.
The Education Department, though, on Thursday wouldn’t clarify whether non-U.S. citizens could get aid this time.
According to the recording of a conference call last Thursday, Diane Auer Jones, the principal deputy under secretary at the Education Department, said the department is continuing to deny aid to noncitizens because they do not meet the requirement that only citizens can receive public benefits. However, the department is lifting the prohibition on students not being able to receive aid if they are barred by the Higher Education Act from getting financial aid.
“Unlike the CARES Act, while students who receive these grants must meet the citizenship requirements for any individual who receives federal benefits, we are not applying the requirements under Section 484 of the Higher Education Act to these funds,” she says on the recording. Three people on the call, contacted by Inside Higher Ed, verified Jones’s remarks.
An Education Department spokeswoman didn’t return a request for comment.