ACE, Other Higher Ed Groups Ask Congress to Support Students and Institutions in Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic
March 22, 2020

It is vital for higher education leaders to contact their members of Congress to request assistance

ACE and a number of major higher education associations have submitted a proposal to Congress detailing the urgent nature of providing emergency relief to students and colleges and universities during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

The proposal is detailed in a memo written in collaboration with the American Association of Community Colleges; the American Association of State Colleges and Universities; the Association of American Universities; the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities; the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities; and other associations. ACE and over 70 other higher education associations sent letters to both the House and Senate March 20 outlining the priorities.

The associations are asking Congress for five things:

1. Emergency relief to students and institutions. The federal government should distribute direct support to students and institutions through the existing Pell Grant disbursement system, based on enrollment, Pell and non-Pell. At least 25 percent of the funds would be given as direct emergency aid to students, with a maximum award of $1,500. This has the advantage of allowing urgently needed funds to be quickly distributed. The remaining funds may be used by institutions as they deem best, provided they are used to address revenue losses or expenses necessitated by the pandemic. For-profit institutions and institutions with a substantial portion of their enrollment in online programs will only receive the student share and not the institutional share.

2. Access to low-cost capital. As the federal support funding alone will be insufficient to sustain many colleges and universities, it is also necessary to allow otherwise financially stable institutions to access new zero-interest loans to replace short-term revenue disruptions and expenses incurred as a result of COVID-19.

3. Technology implementation fund. The federal government should provide grant funding in the amount of $7.8 billion to make certain that institutions are supported in the transition to distance learning, while also ensuring that students do not lose access to their education as a result of the shift.

4. Administrative relief. The memo asks the government for temporary statutory and regulatory flexibility as it applies to compliance and deadlines as well as eligibility determination and disbursement of Title IV aid to help institutions get aid to students rapidly.

5. Longer term tax relief for students and institutions (a separate proposal not included in this memo). ACE and other groups are advocating for a number of potential proposals that range from benefits to students, particularly low-income students; aid for institutions by helping lower some debt and administrative costs; and enhancements to charitable giving to encourage private dollars to aid higher education as well as the broader nonprofit community. This would include changes to the tax code, including relief on the endowment tax which would make more money available to institutions to serve students in this crisis.

ACE and other associations have been in contact with many institutions about the impact the pandemic is having on campuses, students, and all of higher education, and are actively working to make the case to Congress for the type of federal support institutions and students will require to weather this unprecedented storm. Among the outlets that have covered the higher education request are The Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Roll Call.

It is important that campus leaders contact their own members of Congress and convey the urgency of taking the steps we outline and the consequences to your institution and students if the appropriate aid is not included in the stimulus package being drafted now. In particular, it is critical that congressional delegations understand that colleges and universities need access to low-cost loans as well as direct federal support to stabilize and deal with immediate needs.