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Higher ed leaders warn House committee of financial strain

Higher ed leaders warn House committee of financial strain

Higher education leaders told House lawmakers Tuesday that they are facing financial strains as states begin mulling cuts to their budgets amid the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Timothy White, chancellor of the California State University (CSU) system, told lawmakers on the House Education and Labor Committee on Tuesday that CSU is preparing for "a grim new fiscal reality" as it readies for the fall.

"Our campuses face soaring costs in mounting revenue losses associated with the pandemic, putting our student’s well being and academic success at risk," he said.

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White noted a California state budget that was recently passed by the state's legislature that cuts funding for CSU by $299 million dollars, 4.2 percent of its operating budget. California and other states implemented similar cuts on public higher education during the Great Recession.

White asked Congress for “additional support and investment during this historic public health crisis.”

In March, Congress passed the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus package that allocated $14 billion to higher education. But despite additional funding, states have depleted their budgets in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, including buying supplies such as personal protective equipment. States have also taken a hit because of economic fallout caused by shuttering businesses to stop the spread of the disease. 

House Democrats in May sought to beef up federal funding for state and local governments, passing the HEROES Act — a piece of legislation that included nearly $27 billion for public higher education institutions and $1.7 billion for historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions.

The HEROES Act also adjusted the formula for counting university students in the CARES Act to include part-time students as equal to full-time students. 

The legislation has not been taken up in the Senate. 

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Schools will open largely following state health orders, though many will have to lean on digital instruction, which adds concerns from education leaders about digital equity for students attending schools whose budgets are being slashed.

Shaun Harper, president of the American Educational Research Association, told lawmakers that while some universities "are scrambling to figure out how to play football this fall and how to insure physical distance stadiums," others lack the resources to hold immersive online classes. 

"It feels to me that is a much more inexpensive project as far as a use of fiscal resources," he said. "It feels to me that this money would be better spent figuring out how to close the digital equity access gaps and better preparing faculty to teach online, at least for this fall semester."

Sharon Pierce, president of a community college in Minneapolis, told lawmakers that instruction for some technical programs is not possible virtually and will be held in person under Minnesota's health guidelines. White said CSU is planning for a primarily virtual fall “with exceptions for critical in-person experiences that can be conducted within rigorous standards of health and safety.” 

The news comes as academic institutions face pressure from the Trump administration to reopen their doors. 

On Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that international college students in the U.S. on student visas would not be allowed to stay or enter the country for fall classes if they're not enrolled in an in-person class at their institution. 

Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli said Tuesday that the rule would "encourage schools to reopen.

On Tuesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVosBetsy DeVosProject Veritas surveilled government officials to expose anti-Trump sentiments: report Biden administration reversing Trump ban on pandemic aid for undocumented students Biden taps ex-consumer bureau chief to oversee student loans MORE told the country's governors that she expects schools to be "fully operational" come the fall, regardless of the coronavirus pandemic.

President TrumpDonald TrumpSunday shows preview: House GOP removes Cheney from leadership position; CDC issues new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans Navajo Nation president on Arizona's new voting restrictions: An 'assault' on our rights The Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez MORE also claimed in a tweet Monday that Democratic lawmakers wanted to keep schools shuttered in the fall for "political reasons."

“They think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it!” Trump tweeted.