Whitman College receives COVID-19 relief aid

Abby Malzewski, News Reporter

On April 9, the United States Department of Education announced the amount that each higher education institution will receive under the CARES Act: Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

Congress recently passed the CARES Act, which outlined a $2 trillion COVID-19 relief plan used throughout the country. Under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, $14 billion is going to higher education institutions to help with the cost of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Inside Higher Ed, Whitman College will be allocated $764,766 for COVID-19 relief from the federal government. From this amount, about $382,000 will be used to directly support students. These emergency grants for students could be used for housing, food and other essential needs.

Peter Harvey, Whitman’s chief financial officer, explained the status of the federal funding at Whitman.

“Our application has been approved and the money is set aside in a federal account for Whitman to withdraw as we award it to students,” Harvey said. “The aid was dispensed based on the number of students the college serves.”

The amount of aid each school receives is dependent on many factors, including student body population size and endowment size. The Trump administration is pressuring many institutions with the heftiest endowments to reject their funds. This is so students who need the most support can receive as much aid as possible. Institutions who are rejecting federal aid tend to have endowments in the billions range.

Marilyn Ponti, the director of financial aid services at Whitman, confirmed Whitman’s current endowment. As of June 30, 2019, the end of Whitman’s last fiscal year, the endowment stood at $565 million. 

In a Politico analysis, it was found that more than 70% of federal relief money will go to public universities. Public universities are set to receive about $9 billion dollars of funding, whereas private schools, like Whitman, are set to receive about $3.5 billion of the total fund.

Harvey described how the federal funds Whitman receives will be used. He also outlined the process of distributing aid to students.

“The emergency stimulus funds are meant to assist students who were disrupted by the pandemic,” Harvey said. “Due to the limited amount of funds awarded to Whitman, Whitman will be awarding these funds to students with the highest levels of financial need. The college will be reaching out to eligible students to invite them to submit an application to request assistance due to any disruption they experienced per the requirements of the grant.”

Harvey claimed that the process of reaching out to students eligible for receiving aid will begin the week of May 11.

The Financial Aid Office looked into additional funding opportunities, such as the Payroll Protection Program. However, Whitman is not eligible to participate in this program because it provides loans for businesses with under 500 employees.

The desperate need for funding many colleges and universities are facing due to the COVID-19 outbreak has led to conversations about the future of higher education. Halefom Belay, the chair of the economics department, shared his overall insight on this change in the realm of higher education.

“Navigating through the global mess we are in requires different tools, skill sets, different leadership and vision for the future,” Belay said. “We may take this unprecedented situation as an opportunity to think hard and shape a new environment for all Americans and for people around the world. Alternatively we may fall back to our default mode of thinking and end up with the status quo in place. That will be a shame.”