Washington Watch: A deeper look at the CARES Act

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The just-enacted CARES Act (Coronvavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) provides substantial amounts of funding for community colleges and their students, even though it is clear that significantly more resources are needed.  

Since President Trump signed the legislation on Friday, community college leaders have had numerous questions about the implementation of the CARES Act, but at this point most of those questions remain unanswered. This is not surprising given the breadth and complexity of the legislation, but hopefully the U.S. Education Department (ED) soon will issue more concrete plans for implementing key provisions.

Many of the CARES Act provisions are broadly drafted, and the department will need to give detailed guidance in order for institutions to make sure they comply with the law.  

What colleges can expect

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) on Tuesday hosted a webinar providing an overview of the CARES Act and some of the political dynamics leading to its enactment. In the webinar, AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus presented estimates from the American Council on Education (ACE) regarding the approximate amounts that colleges may receive under the main funding source in the legislation — formula grants delineated in the law.   

The ACE figures are estimates. They rely on a series of assumptions that by definition result in approximate allocations. AACC is making them available because they give college officials a rough idea of the funding that they may receive.

For colleges’ purposes, the important number is in the column on the right — that’s the total funding that colleges are estimated to receive. The first column, on the left, are the estimated resources generated through a college’s Pell Grant full-time-equivalent (FTE) recipients, while the middle column is the estimated resources generated through FTE enrollments who do not receive Pell. The mandated formula weighs these students differently, giving three times more weight to Pell recipients (FTE) than to those who do not receive grants (also on an FTE basis). Finally, the formula excludes all students who were enrolled solely in online courses prior to the pandemic.

These estimates aside, ED will generate funding and provide it to institutions. It is hoped that ED will do this with dispatch, and minimal submissions from colleges, but that is not definite. Furthermore, the department has not determined how it intends to allocate more than $1 billion in additional funding provided to Title III and Title V, nor how it will provide grants totaling $349 million via FIPSE.

AACC is already advocating on the next piece of legislation that Congress will likely enact in response to the coronavirus. The association plans to soon host another webinar with more information on the implementation of the CARES Act, and on how AACC members can participate in these critical advocacy efforts.

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About the Author

David Baime
is senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.