The educational institutions eligible for multimillion-dollar coronavirus federal aid include public universities with high rates of low-income students, struggling community colleges, and, controversially, Ivy League universities with multibillion-dollar endowments.
Columbia has yet to confirm if it will accept its $12.8 million allotment, which, alongside that given to Cornell allotment, was the highest amount given to the Ivy League institutions. Despite an earlier confirmation to the New York Daily Mail, a University spokesperson said that the decision is yet to be made. The allotment size is likely due to the high percentage of full-time undergraduate students at the University who receive the Pell Grant, a Federal Grant for students who demonstrate the highest need in the country, a factor that was weighed significantly in deciding school allocations.
16 percent of undergraduate students in Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are Pell Grant recipients The number nears 40 percent of students for the School of General Studies—around 70 percent of whom are enrolled full-time students.
Meanwhile, Princeton University, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, and Stanford University announced they would turn down their federal aid following criticism from politicians, including President Donald Trump, for the allocation of aid to these affluent, private institutions that have notoriously exclusive student bodies.
Columbia has historically ranked low among Ivy League endowment amounts, at only $10.9 billion, but still ranks among the top ten endowments in the country.
Harvard University said in a statement that while the pandemic would bring financial hardships, it—with its $40 billion endowment—will fare much better than other institutions.
“We are also concerned however, that the intense focus by politicians and others on Harvard in connection with this program may undermine participation in a relief effort that Congress created and the president signed into law for the purpose of helping students and institutions whose financial challenges in the coming months may be most severe,” a Harvard spokesperson said.
The CARES Act allows universities to use their own discretion to distribute the money to provide relief from the disruption caused by the suspension of classes due to the current pandemic. Guidance deadlines suggest that individuals’ awards not exceed the maximum Pell Grant amount of $6,195. Students are not allowed to apply this award toward their expected tuition contributions.
Intensifying the controversy over the use of these funds, Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that these funds would only be applicable to federal aid receipients—a population that does not include undocumented students who do not qualify for financial aid. The law has no mention of this guidance. Consequently, experts have questioned how reasonable this interpretation was.
A Columbia spokesperson could not be reached at the time of writing this article to respond to how the money will be allocated and if the University will follow the guidance of the Department of Education.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Columbia would accept the aid following a University confirmation in the New York Daily Mail. The article has been changed to affirm Columbia is currently reviewing regulations before making a decision to receive the aid.