The College has yet to accept the $1.2 million allocated to it through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
According to President Clayton Rose, who commented on the matter during Wednesday’s Town Hall, the College has not accepted the funds because “there are some possible conditions or terms around taking the money, which could be problematic.”
According to Rose, this provision could potentially lead to the names of students who accept CARES Act aid to be disclosed to any federal agency under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Recipient Agreement Form, which the College needs to sign to receive the funds, states in section 4(f) that the College “shall cooperate with any examination of records with respect to the advanced funds by making records and authorized individuals available when requested, whether by (i) the U.S. Department of Education and/or its Inspector General; or (ii) any other federal agency, commission, or department in the lawful exercise of its jurisdiction and authority.”
“I hope it turns out not to be an issue because, if it is, my suspicion is we may not take the money,” Rose said during the town hall.
None of the 11 NESCAC colleges has announced that it will decline the funds, and Middlebury and Trinity have officially confirmed that they will accept CARES Act funds.
The U.S. Department of Education set aside approximately $6 billion of aid for higher education in March. The amount each institution will receive was calculated based on how many students are enrolled and, of that number, how many receive national Pell Grants. If Bowdoin accepted the funds, guidelines stipulate that nearly $600,000—half of the $1.2 million—will be directly distributed at the College’s discretion to assist with students’ emergency expenses. The additional half can be used to offset coronavirus (COVID-19)-related costs, to upgrade technology or as additional student aid.
Stanford, Princeton, Harvard and Yale are among a few universities which have declined the federal aid entirely. However, the universities did not raise the concern about students’ identities being disclosed in any of their statements on why they did not accept the funds. Instead, the universities said that their allotted funds should be redistributed to smaller, less financially secure colleges and universities.
Although Stanford, Princeton, Harvard and Yale declined federal funds, each university has allocated some of its own funds for direct emergency aid for students. These funds are open to all students, regardless of citizenship status, which is not the case under the CARES Act funding stipulations. The U.S. Department of Education clarified that DACA students—undocumented students who arrived in the United States as children—and international students do not qualify for CARES Act funding.
During the virtual town hall, Rose encouraged students who were seeking emergency assistance to contact their dean, even if the College decides not to accept the federal funding.
“I want to encourage you to come to the dean’s office—don’t wait for this CARES Act money,” he said. “If it’s there, terrific. If you think you can use it, apply for it, but also, if you have a need now, come and talk to the dean’s office.”
The Office of the Dean of Students has emergency funding available for students, an application which can be accessed through an online form. This fund has been available to students all year and was not created for COVID-19 related emergencies. According to the Office of the Dean of Students, the funding operates off of donations from alumni, parents and friends of the College.
Numerous students reported to the Orient that they were not aware of the College’s emergency funds until Rose’s comments during Wednesday’s town hall.
“I don’t think anyone I know, at the time, knew that existed nor did they reach out for it,” said Aoguzi Muhameiti ’23 in a video interview with the Orient. “The funds we were reaching out to were third party systems.”
Muhameiti said he received funding from student organized funds.
Dean of Students Kristina Bethea Odejimi sent an email to all students on September 10 informing them of the availability of emergency funding. The fund has not been referenced in student-wide emails on any occasion since.
The Office of the Dean of Students wrote in an email to the Orient that it has received 15 requests for emergency funding since Rose announced the College’s shift to remote learning due to COVID-19 on March 11. Of those 15 requests, 11 have been completed, and the remaining four requests are awaiting additional information.
In an email to all students last night, Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) Executive Team announced BSG has offered almost the entire remaining portion of the BSG budget—approximately $20,000—to supplement the Office of Dean of Students’ emergency funding.
“The Deans already have access to information regarding students, and therefore are in a better place to make more informed assessments regarding a student’s circumstances,” BSG wrote in its email to students.
According to the email, BSG and the Office of the Dean of Students are still working out the terms on how the money can be used, but BSG felt it was necessary to inform students of the decision.
“I hope that students are comfortable trying to access the fund. I know there’s been a lot of confusion as to whether or not there were funds available through the College to help them if they’re in difficult financial circumstances or something unexpected arose,” Ural Mishra ’20, BSG president, said in a video interview with the Orient. “There have been students who I’ve been in communication with who really wanted BSG to put this information out and you know, it is our job to make sure that students know that this is available.”