ASU, GCU get largest COVID-19 aid checks in the nation

Photo by Arizona State University | Photo via Flickr

The largest single payout of COVID-19 aid money to a higher education institution will go to Arizona State University, which will receive a $63.5 million grant as part of the behemoth $2 trillion CARES Act

And among for-profit institutions, Grand Canyon University will receive the largest grant in the nation at $22.4 million.

In all, Arizona colleges and universities will receive almost $200 million from the fund. The money comes out of a $14 billion emergency aid appropriation to higher education.

The package is divided with public colleges and universities receiving $8.9 billion, private nonprofit institutions receiving $2.5 billion and for-profits receiving $1.1 billion. 

U.S Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a letter to the presidents of universities and colleges that they are required to allocate at least 50% of the money for emergency grants for students to help them cover expenses such as living costs, technology needs and child care. 

“I know you find yourselves grappling with issues you never imagined, and I want to assure you we are here to support you in your missions and to quickly provide the resources and flexibilities you need to continue educating your students,” DeVos wrote. 

The Department of Education said the methodology used to determine the allocations to each university and college included looking at the total population of the institution and the number of students who use federal Pell grants. Those grants are reserved for students with “exceptional financial need.”

Grand Canyon University, a private Christian school with a campus in west Phoenix, announced it will spend 100% of its CARES Act grant directly on students. 

“This was an easy decision to make,” GCU President Brian Mueller said in a press release. “It is incumbent on us to take care of our students and families who are trying to navigate the challenges caused by this coronavirus pandemic.”

Mueller said GCU is still figuring out the details of how those funds will be distributed, but said they won’t be used to reimburse the university for the refunds and credits they already gave to students for housing and food. 

Even though GCU converted to a non-profit in 2018, the Department of Education considers it a for-profit institution, and last year rejected the school’s request to be regulated as a non-profit. The federal agency said the school was a “captive client” of a publicly traded for-profit company. Because of that, it faces stricter regulations.

University of Phoenix, another Arizona-based for-profit institution, also announced it would be providing all of its stimulus funding to students, and called on other institutions to do the same.

“We strongly believe that every higher education institution should devote the majority of these federal funds to direct financial assistance to students and that the federal government should provide close and careful oversight to ensure that happens,” said Andrea Smiley, vice president of public relations at University of Phoenix.

Other institutions in Arizona that received significant amounts of money are the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, receiving $30.9 million and $23.6 million respectively. 

ASU, U of A and NAU all did not comment on how much of the aid money they plan to give directly to students.

The American Council on Education and 40 other groups representing higher education institutions wrote in a letter that they hope more funds will be provided to colleges and universities in an upcoming COVID-19 relief package. 

The groups said higher education needs another $46.6 billion to cover costs related to financial aid and revenue losses.