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An Open Letter to College and University Leaders

An Open Letter to College and University Leaders:

Please do not send your CARES Act money back to the U.S. Department of Education. While some commentators are cheering decisions by a growing list of institutions that includes Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford to send back the funds they are receiving that should go to student emergency grants, these funds could be put to far greater use. If those dollars aren’t used for the benefit of students enrolled by these institutions, they could surely be used by others just down the road.

In her letter announcing availability of CARES Act student emergency grant funds, Secretary Betsy DeVos suggested that any institution finding it did not need to make full use of funds allocated by the CARES Act formula should consider transferring their funds to another institution with greater need. She doubled down on this guidance on April 22.

First, it is important to point out that institutions with large endowments and high U.S. News & World Report rankings still enroll many low-income students and students experiencing financial hardship. But if an institution objects to the terms of the funding, they should make certain they have taken care of the people for whom the money was intended by Congress: their students. And if in fact their students do not have financial hardships, such colleges and universities should take up Secretary DeVos’s suggestion and find another institution or group of institutions that will use the money.

Harvard could have sent their money to Bunker Hill Community College. Stanford could have sent theirs to Bay Area community colleges. How could anyone who has followed education for the last three years entrust dollars Congress explicitly directed be put in the hands of students as fast as possible instead back in the hands of this Department of Education? We know too much about the already-stretched accounts of colleges serving the highest numbers of first-generation and low-income students and too little about what the Department might do with these rejected emergency grant dollars.

The least we can do as a field is to make use of the funding still available, following the law itself, to provide maximum benefit to students at a time of maximum need. Please share with your colleagues, and thank you for your continuous efforts on behalf of students.