Tucked into March’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was $3 billion for governors to spend on educational institutions hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some states have put forth equity- and sustainability-focused higher education spending priorities. For example, Michigan created a free community college program for essential workers, and South Carolina dedicated its entire higher education allocation to its eight historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Even before the pandemic, colleges and universities were grappling with a growing financial crisis, brought on by years of shrinking state support, declining enrollment, and student concerns with skyrocketing tuition and burdensome debt.
Now the coronavirus has amplified the financial trouble, forcing universities large and small to make deep and possibly lasting cuts to close widening budget shortfalls.
As the ties between infection rates among students and college towns become clear, campuses like the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse are extending frequent testing to more students, including those who live off campus. It’s a financial and logistical challenge, but one that could be vital to maintaining the community’s trust.
At a time when higher education is in constant flux—some of it is online, some of it is in person with students at a social distance, some of it is in hybrid form—at least one part remains constant: It’s expensive.
That reality could make any student or family inquire about free-college programs. But many states have so many restrictions that the students who need free college most can’t get it.