Minnesota colleges will receive around $180 million in federal stimulus aid to help soften potential revenue and enrollment losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to issue emergency grants to students in need.
Public colleges and universities in Minnesota will receive nearly $130 million in funding and private institutions will receive about $40 million. Every school that received federal aid from the CARES Act must use at least half of the funding to provide direct cash grants to students who had their education disrupted, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“It’s certainly a start,” Dennis Olson, Minnesota’s higher education commissioner, said in an interview. “But it will absolutely not completely cover the loss of any institution that we can see.”
The University of Minnesota System, which is expecting a pandemic-induced revenue loss of $75 million to $315 million, will receive a total of $35.5 million in CARES Act aid. U officials are crafting a set of principles and guidelines on how to distribute half of the funds to students, according to a statement from the university. Details will be released once their plans are finalized in the coming weeks.
The Minnesota State system — which has 30 colleges, seven universities and 54 campuses — will get about $93 million. Minnesota State officials are still projecting potential revenue hits but do expect a loss of at least $35 million from the disruption of the spring semester, said Bill Maki, the system’s vice chancellor for finance and facilities.
Minnesota State, which serves more than 350,000 students each year, will spend $46.7 million of its stimulus funding on direct cash grants to students, Maki said.
System campuses are scrambling to get the money into the hands of students in the coming weeks. More than “three-quarters” of Minnesota State students will receive some grant funding, Maki said, with the total dollar amount depending on which school they attend and whether they are eligible for Pell Grants.
“That funding will go directly to students to help with costs that they’ve [borne] because of the pandemic,” he said. The grants are meant to help cover expenses such as course materials, food, housing, health care and child care.
Colleges and universities are using their own discretion in determining how to best allocate the funds.
St. Catherine University in St. Paul is not following other colleges in simply dividing the number of students by the money it will distribute from the CARES Act, said Drew Melendres, senior vice president for enrollment management and student affairs. The private university, which received $2.6 million in federal aid, will distribute at least half those funds to students who demonstrate the most need.
“I think that is the trick in all this is understanding where is there true need in which these dollars can make an impact vs. those students that it would be a nice-to-have but not an absolute need-to-have,” Melendres said.
Hamline University in St. Paul is weighing options for the aid, such as bolstering the school’s emergency fund, which distributes money directly to students for critical needs such as food, spokesman Jeff Papas said. The private university also received about $2.6 million in stimulus aid.
There has been little guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on how best to distribute the funds. The emergency aid could be “incredibly impactful,” said Carrie Welton, a policy consultant for Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.
But Welton said it also puts colleges in the uncomfortable position of picking who needs aid and who doesn’t.
“It’s both a pro and a con that higher education institutions are going to be forced to pick winners and losers,” she said. “It’s a difficult thing to say, particularly during a crisis, that anybody should be excluded.”