EDUCAUSE is joining with the higher education community in requesting that Congress act swiftly to provide relief to students and campuses as COVID-19 inflicts unprecedented disruption.
March 26, 2020: Read EDUCAUSE President John O'Brien's Action Alert Update on the Emergency Spending Bill.
The novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is drastically reshaping the way we live our lives, leaving no segment of society untouched. Making the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and communities their foremost priority, institutions of higher education have closed campuses and, in many cases, moved to implement remote operations.
While these have been necessary steps in responding to and mitigating the spread of COVID-19, such decisions are not without consequences. Students are undergoing unprecedented disruption, and institutions are experiencing profound financial and operational upheaval. Congress has so far passed two COVID-19 legislative packages designed to mitigate the impact the pandemic is having on workers, the economy, and public health. However, they have yet to formulate or agree upon a comprehensive response specific to higher education.
The American Council on Education (ACE) is leading an effort to urge Congress and the federal government to act in ways that address the challenges students and campuses are facing and that alleviate harms induced by COVID-19.1 ACE called on EDUCAUSE to inform the higher education community response specific to supporting the rapid transition to emergency distance delivery of face-to-face courses, as well as the need to support institutions in moving more and more of their academic programs toward true online learning in the weeks and months ahead.
Together with partners at the California Virtual Campus-Open Education Initiative (CVC-OEI) and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), EDUCAUSE worked to identify cost estimates for major aspects of shifting classroom-based learning into remote delivery. This included evaluating costs associated with emergency transition and student access to technology and broadband. The latter included developing rough estimates of the percentage of students who may need to secure requisite technology and broadband access. EDUCAUSE, CVC-OEI, and WCET arrived at estimates that helped inform the higher education community's request for $7.8 billion to fund a Technology Implementation Fund. Grants from this fund would help institutions transition to, support, and sustain emergency distance delivery while continuing to adapt their academic programs for online learning as the crisis may require.
In the ACE-led request, the higher education community is making three additional requests of Congress and the federal government, all of which EDUCAUSE strongly supports.
- Emergency aid to students and support for institutions. All students are experiencing challenges associated with COVID-19, but students who are low income, homeless, or in foster care will struggle to meet basic needs like housing, food, and medical care. COVID-19 will also result in lost revenue for institutions. Therefore, the federal government should provide direct support to students and institutions through the existing Pell Grant disbursement system and a calculation of enrollment, which could include full-time equivalent (FTE). At least 25 percent of such funds should be given as direct aid to students, with a maximum award of $1,500.
- Access to low-cost capital. Federal support alone will not sustain many institutions. Otherwise financially stable institutions need access to zero-interest loans to replace short-term revenue and address other expenses incurred in this emergency. The federal government should also provide a zero-interest refinancing option for current, outstanding college and university debt—allowing institutions to redirect resources currently used for servicing debt to support other aspects of daily operations.
- Temporary flexibility via regulatory relief. As existing law did not anticipate problems imposed by COVID-19, institutions need flexibility to guarantee that students aren't harmed as a result of regulatory requirements. Therefore, Congress should: (1) temporarily suspend certain provisions related to eligibility, determination, and disbursement of Title IV aid to assist schools in rapid delivery of aid to students, and (2) provide the Secretary of Education with temporary authority to waive or suspend the large number of existing statutory regulatory deadlines with which institutions must comply to avoid consequences that would not occur if not for the crisis—such as possible suspension of aid. The Secretary of Education should also waive compliance with significant and/or costly new regulatory requirements that may be introduced during the COVID-19 emergency. Coming into compliance with new requirements during this period would require institutions to expend substantial resources that would be better allocated to crisis response and student support.
Our hope is that Congress will incorporate these requests in the next COVID-19 stimulus package to provide much-needed relief to students and institutions alike. Congress and the Trump Administration cannot expect that nonprofit and public institutions will be able to bear expenses and revenue losses related to COVID-19 on their own. Ensuring student academic success during this crisis and the recovery from it requires ensuring that institutions have the resources necessary for immediate response and continued online learning progress.
EDUCAUSE will keep members apprised as this situation evolves and as Congress and the federal government continue to tailor their response to the novel coronavirus.
EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor higher education and technology-related issues during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. For additional resources, please visit the EDUCAUSE COVID-19 web page.
Kathryn Branson is a Senior Associate with Ulman Public Policy.
© 2020 Kathryn Branson. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.