Colleges, universities prepare to send out coronavirus student aid

It’s going to take at least a few days for Idaho colleges and universities to start sending out $28 million in federal coronavirus student aid.

That’s because school officials say they need a little time to decide how to get the money into their students’ hands.

“We are still working on our plan,” said Greg Hahn, a spokesman for Boise State University, which has roughly $5.5 million to distribute to its students. “I don’t think we’ll have specifics until some time next week at the earliest.”

The coronavirus outbreak has forced colleges and universities across the nation to abruptly send students home and shift to online learning. A portion of the far-reaching $2 trillion federal coronavirus stimulus law is designed to offset this cost. Idaho’s public and private colleges and universities will split close to $56 million.

And under the federal law, at least half of that money has to go directly to students — and that’s the first money that will go out the door.

The federal law allows colleges and universities to access the student aid money quickly. Institutions can tap into the money now, after they submit a “certificate of funding and agreement,” signing off on the terms and conditions attached to the federal payments.

Some schools — such as Idaho State University, the College of Western Idaho and the College of Southern Idaho — hope to have their plans finished within days.

In addition to getting the money out quickly, the feds also are sending out the money with relatively few strings attached. Colleges and universities can give a lump sum to every student, or only to students who demonstrate significant need.

“The only statutory requirement is that the funds be used to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus (including eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care),” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a letter to presidents last week.

CSI will not go with an across-the-board approach, and will instead focus on students in greatest need, spokeswoman Kimberlee LaPray said.

Idaho State’s plan will focus on offsetting immediate coronavirus-related costs. But the university will set aside some of its money to address a long-term concern across the higher education system: unstable enrollment, in the wake of a global pandemic. Idaho State will use some federal funds to encourage students to remain enrolled for summer and fall classes, spokesman Stuart Summers said.

Colleges and universities can use the remainder of their federal stimulus dollars to cover institutional needs. At the University of Idaho, for example, that comes to about $3.5 million. But as the U of I refunds room and board, cancels events and writes off other revenues from day-to-day operations, losses could hit $7 million by June 30, President C. Scott Green said last week.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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