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Local Colleges Receive Hundreds of Millions in COVID-19 Relief Aid

Local college students who have been struggling to pay their bills and keep up their studies during the pandemic are getting some help from the federal government.

The coronavirus relief act, or CARES Act, passed by Congress is providing hundreds of millions of dollars to local institutions, including public and private universities, community colleges and for-profit institutions.

Among the local schools receiving money: Miami Dade College ($49 million), Florida International University ($38 million), Broward College ($27 million), Florida Atlantic University ($22 million), Keiser University ($21.2 million), Palm Beach State College ($18.9 million), University of Miami ($8 million) and Nova Southeastern University ($7.2 million).

At least half of each school’s money is required to go toward emergency cash grants for students.

The law requires recipients to already be receiving some form of federal aid, such as a Pell Grant, which goes to low-income students, or federally backed student loans, which have no income restrictions.

Officials from several institutions say they are still working on exact eligibility requirements for the new money.

Arthur Keiser, chancellor and CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based Keiser University, says, “We’re trying to make sure all students are covered.”

Keiser must allocate at least $10.6 million of its funding to student aid, which “sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t go very far. We have almost 20,000 students,” adds the chancellor.

While several other South Florida’s universities, including FAU and NSU, are still developing their plans for distributing money, FIU began accepting applications April 24. The university has received more than 3,200 applications and funded $2.5 million in requests, according to FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana.

Additionally, about half of the federal money can be used to offset expenses or losses for the institutions. FIU has calculated its losses at $6.2 million for spring, including refunds for housing and meals, protective equipment, cleaning and sanitizing, and new software. The expenses and losses are expected to be about $11 million for the summer term. “The longer this goes on, of course, the larger the shortfall,” Santana explains.

Keiser said there could be new expenses if students return in the fall, as schools determine how to keep students and faculty safe. That could involve having fewer students in each classroom where everyone must wear masks and gloves. Each residential student could also be placed in a private dorm room, rather than sharing with a roommate.

“Our plan is to be back to school in the fall, following whatever rules we’re given,” Arthur Keiser notes.