State community college leaders say more federal aid is crucial

Dive Brief: 

  • State directors of community colleges that were surveyed recently agree funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act helped their states’ students. But most said colleges in their state will need additional federal aid to help stay open in the 2020-21 academic year. 

  • The University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center polled 38 members, representing as many states, of the Council of State Directors of Community Colleges. Most said schools in their states need more funding for technology, professional development, and counseling and advising. 

  • Higher education groups also say the sector requires more funding to withstand the crisis, especially as some state systems stare down massive budget cuts. 

Dive Insight: 

The $14 billion that the CARES Act provided directly to colleges has helped them weather the pandemic, but they’re still under immense strain. More than half of respondents said colleges in their state need additional funding for contact tracing, while roughly two-thirds said the same for testing, vaccines and pandemic-specific support. 

Community colleges may require additional aid. While they educate 40% of students, they received only about 27% of CARES Act funds because the allocation formula gave less weight to part-time students, according to the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. 

Four in five respondents said they’d need more federal help with mental health services. A survey conducted between March and May suggests the pandemic has made it harder for students to access mental healthcare, even though anxiety appears to be growing nationwide during the crisis. 

Counseling services within some systems, such as the California Community Colleges, were already taxed before the pandemic. Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley urged the system’s 116 schools to spend some of the $120 million in state funds it received for its pandemic response on mental health services, CalMatters reported

Nearly all of the respondents said the pandemic has revealed significant broadband internet access disparities, especially in rural regions. Eighty-four percent of them agreed more federal funding for broadband “is a major need” in their states. 

It’s unclear if that need will be met. The American Council on Education recently told Congressional leaders the sector needs at least $120 billion to make up for fall reopening expenses, lost revenue and severe budget cuts. 

Current relief proposals in Congress haven’t mustered bipartisan support. Moreover, the Senate adjourned Tuesday without reaching a deal on future relief or making plans to reconvene before the Tuesday election.

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