The University of New Mexico will receive at least $8.6 million from the federal government to use toward emergency relief grants for students.
The money comes from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund established by the recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
In total, UNM will receive $17,266,512 in from the U.S. Department of Education, according to the recipient agreement contract released by the Department. Of that figure, a minimum of $8,633,256 must be awarded in emergency financial aid grants to students.
Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Teresa Costantinidis said the $8.6 million is expected to be delivered to UNM by the end of this week.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released an open letter to all college and university presidents on April 9. The letter detailed the amount of funds made available through the CARES Act — which was signed into law on March 27 — and explained the level of autonomy afforded to the administrations in regard to the implementation of emergency relief for students.
“The CARES Act provides institutions with significant discretion on how to award this emergency assistance to students,” DeVos said in the letter. “This means that each institution may develop its own system and process for determining how to allocate these funds, which may include distributing the funds to all students or only to students who demonstrate significant need.”
Costantinidis said UNM is currently working on a distribution model for these funds.
“The expectation from the Federal Government is that we will get these funds entirely and directly into the hands of our neediest students,” Constantidis said in an email to the Daily Lobo on April 13. “I know that over the weekend, Dan Garcia, Vice President for Enrollment Management, and Brian Malone, the Director of the Student Financial Aid Office, were working on scenarios to determine how best to distribute the funds quickly and fairly.”
According to García, “there have been several discussions to try and provide students with assistance as fast as possible,” but there have been “no final determinations yet.”
The U.S. Department of Education recommended institutions limit the maximum amount of payments for students and offered the maximum Pell grant limit as a model — which was $6,195 for the 2019-2020 academic year — in DeVos’ letter.
It is currently unclear if UNM will follow this recommendation, although they are under no statutory obligation from the federal government to do so.
The only requirement, according to DeVos, is that the money received by the students be used “to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus.” DeVos provided a broad list of examples ranging from course materials to housing to childcare.
The U.S. Department of Education has not yet provided details on the other 50% of funds directed toward institutional expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic, but Constantinidis said she is prepared to accept those funds once details are released.
“We expect more information to be provided by the Federal Government, and if we are eligible, we would certainly apply for those additional funds,” Costantinidis said.
UNM President Garnett Stokes said while the incoming funds are valuable, much is still unknown about the financial and operational toll the coronavirus will have on the University.
“The biggest challenge we currently face is not knowing how long the pandemic will last, and the accompanying restrictions that may remain in place,” Stokes said in an email to the Daily Lobo. “We also don’t yet know what the negative impact on the upcoming fiscal year nor FY22 (fiscal year 2022) will be, but it is expected to be challenging.”
Stokes said another area of financial concern is research funding.
“As we are the only R1 (highest level of research) university in New Mexico, we have a critical need to sustain our research enterprise, and so would like to also see funding to support the robust research infrastructure that we have built,” Stokes said.
Of the colleges and universities in New Mexico, UNM has been allocated the largest total amount of money through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. UNM will receive more than the allocations for the Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), New Mexico Tech, Eastern New Mexico University and New Mexico Highlands University combined. The second-highest sum is directed to New Mexico State University (NMSU), which is receiving a $14,076,359 allocation.
Each institution must use half of the total funds allocated to them toward emergency aid grants for students, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“We are extremely appreciative of every dollar that comes both to our students and the University,” Stokes said. “However, the fiscal impact on UNM, which we are in the process of quantifying, will be much greater than the current allocation can cover.”
Liam DeBonis is a photographer and reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LiamDebonis