Opinion: ASU needs more transparency with CARES Act funds

With $6.5 million in unused federal funds sitting in the bank, ASU should have allocated more money to students

This pandemic has been frustrating for many college students, financially speaking. Numerous students are paying the same amount of money for an inadequate education, and several of us weren’t included in the previous stimulus checks. The United States government, as sloppily as they handled this pandemic, compensated for this with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The CARES Act was signed last March, and over $2 trillion was allocated by the government for federal relief to Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, with $14.2 billion going toward higher education. In the bill, it is stated that each university must give at least half of its allocated funds to students.

The University first received this money at the end of March but didn't release a finalized plan to distribute this money, a whopping $63.5 million, until July. ASU took its time to decide how to distribute the money, showing no sense of urgency. This time frame alone was way too long and was a slap in the face for the thousands of students who had been struggling financially for months. 

$31.7 million out of the $63.5 million went toward student aid to assist in helping currently enrolled students graduate on time. This included low-income students, those who were taking summer classes and those who demonstrated financial need. 

What was left out was what ASU considered to be low-income students

Eligibility is granted for students who get scholarships like the College Attainment Grant and the Obama Scholarship, along with those who took classes in summer 2020, or come from families with new or unmet financial needs. Of this money, $31.7 million was to go to students in the form of emergency grants. ASU claims that this money went to 14,000 students in the form of awards ranging from $500-$6,000. 

What was left out was what ASU considered to be low-income students.

The remaining $31.7 million was allocated to virtual learning resources, campus operations and technological updates rather than the student body and faculty. Still, $6.5 million has yet to be spent, or ASU isn't being transparent about where the money went.

READ MORE: Breakdown of CARES Act funding in ASU classrooms

ASU also received $46 million in December from the state of Arizona to help reimburse the University for COVID-19 testing and management. None of that money went to students.

Other large universities in Arizona have already given the CARES Act money to their students, for example, the University of Phoenix, GCU and NAU gave all of its allocated funds to students. The Department of Education stressed how important it was to get money out to students, whose expenses were piling up, but ASU decided to wait.

This is shocking when you realize that ASU was given the most money out of any university in the country. 

"I do find it upsetting that NAU chose to give ALL of their CARES Act money to their students. Where ASU didn't, saying that they would be giving it to students who were in most need, yet it's not hard to find ASU students on social media who clearly stated they were in desperate need of that money yet received nothing," said Nikole Awbery, a senior studying animation at the Herberger Institute

While ASU's fund distribution technically falls in line with what was required by the Education Department, it feels frustrating when other schools, like the ones listed above, are giving all of their funds to students and still managing to stay afloat. 

ASU claims that they have already given out emergency grants to students, but as I took to Twitter and Reddit to see what my classmates were saying, I saw something completely different. 

While some students may have gotten their CARES Act money, many students are feeling frustrated by the allocation of the funds and ASU's confusing plan.

"I do think it was the right decision for ASU to choose to focus aid to the students that are in most need of it rather than giving every student a portion of that money. However I'm unsatisfied with their execution of that," Awbery said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 28% of students in the 2018-19 school year were receiving the Pell grant, a grant typically given to low-income students. So, why are so many low-income students claiming to have gotten nothing? And why weren't Pell Grant students included in the eligibility?

"It's really frustrating," said Em Torres, a fourth-year ASU student studying creative writing and Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o studies. "There are students who have had to drop out of school because they can't afford things like textbooks," said Torres, who received no federal CARES Act money from ASU.

"It just feels like we are being left out in the open to find money," Torres said. 

This is baffling when considering the fact that many students have had to put their education on pause to enter the workforce, either to help their families or themselves stay afloat financially. It seems that President Michael Crow is forgetting the fact that we are also in a financial recession, caused by this pandemic, and that millions of Americans have lost their jobs, including many ASU students and their families. 


 Reach the columnist at htenore@asu.edu or follow @haleyyhmt on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

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