How the CARES Act Can Affect Your Education
In the age of COVID-19, the academic landscape remains uncertain. Schools have transitioned to online courses, and entire curriculums are under evaluation. The interruption of status-quo teaching has sparked discourse on reviewing education standards. Many are even calling into question the metrics by which we grade students and are evaluating the institutions that are teaching them. We are transitioning into what will inevitably be a period of economic depression. So, we find ourselves asking many new questions. What makes an education valuable? How can students find funding support in these challenging economic times?
The state of affairs
Debates about the value of education are not new to the media landscape. Tuition costs across the United States have continued to rise. Now, many families have had to answer the difficult question of weighing whether the value of an elite American education is worth the fiscal expense. If students are learning from home, are they receiving the same quality that was promised in the price of tuition? If students can’t engage in on-campus activities as they once did, should that change the price of admission?
The CARES Act
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into effect a few weeks ago. The act offers over six billion dollars in emergency cash grants to college students whose education was disrupted by COVID-19. Through the Higher Education Emergency Relief fund, the CARES Act will also provide over fourteen billion dollars in funding to postsecondary institutions. In terms of fund allocation, it is important to know that individual universities will determine need. Leading efforts at the state level, California has launched the California College Student Emergency Support Fund. This creates the opportunity for students at UC, California State University, and California community college campuses to apply for fast cash grants of up to five hundred dollars.
Remedial versus proactive policy
These relief efforts of the CARES Act are undoubtedly a step in the right direction. However, keep in mind that the focus is to remedy funds lost in the emerging stages of COVID-19. It does not proactively cater to future losses. In moving out of their respective universities, many students have watched their tuition money disappear. It’s great that there have been efforts to reimburse students after they had to abruptly leave their campuses and find transportation home.
However, there has been no encompassing policy that requires institutions to refund for the costs of housing or meal plans. Remote learning also calls into question whether tuition should be lowered. In terms of policy, there is still a long way to go in the reimbursement process. At the moment, there is no federal standard. Therefore, the choice to reimburse students is at the discretion of individual universities. Is it enough?
The path ahead
We are not yet sure what will happen if remote classes continue through the fall semester. It is my hope that both private and public universities will reevaluate the cost of tuition. By doing so, I wish they will allow families to reapply for financial aid. COVID-19 crisis certainly throws a wrench in our educational norm. However, it could be an opportunity to gather data and reform American higher education. It could be an opportunity for universities to combine their resources. The more digital that higher education curriculum becomes, the more universities will have the opportunity to lower tuition costs. As citizens, parents, students, and teachers, we’re looking to universities to seize this opportunity to reform the standard.
If you or your student are already enrolled in private high school or public/private university, reach out to your school’s financial services office before the start of the next term. If you are an incoming high school senior or the parent of a child beginning the college process, don’t hesitate to reach out to the same offices of your student’s prospective schools. Also, check with the College Board and/or the ACT to see if you are eligible for a fee waiver.
In the best of all cases, increased oversight and funding will emerge. Meanwhile, we will continue to investigate the different options ahead and find opportunities when least expected.