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New batch of federal aid for Maryland colleges: $545M

"We will make sure each student will receive a check that he or she can use to pay the rent, to buy shoes, to pay tuition or whatever they want to do," says CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis. says Community College of Baltimore County President Sandra Kurtinitis. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

“We will make sure each student will receive a check that he or she can use to pay the rent, to buy shoes, to pay tuition or whatever they want to do,” says CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis. says Community College of Baltimore County President Sandra Kurtinitis. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Maryland colleges and universities, which include community colleges, public universities, and both private for-profit and not-for-profit institutions, will receive $545 million from a pot of national relief funding approved in March.

The U.S. Education Department said it’s starting to steer $36 billion in funding to more than 5,000 public and private colleges. The funding was included in a $1.9 trillion relief package that also included $123 billion for K-12 schools.

The higher education aid is being allocated to public and private institutions using a formula that factors in the share of low-income students they enroll.

Two public colleges, the University of Maryland, College Park, and Towson University, are set to receive the most money, at $58.5 million and $49.1 million respectively. They are followed by community colleges Montgomery College and the Community College of Baltimore County, which will receive $40.5 million and $37.1 million respectively.

The funds — the third and largest set of relief funds that American colleges and universities have received since the pandemic’s onset — aim to help colleges in their efforts to recover from the effects of COVID-19.

“The pandemic is responsible for increased costs and decreased revenues for every institution in Maryland,” said Maryland Higher Education Secretary James Fielder, citing costs related to safety measures like improving air filtration, purchasing personal protective equipment and training professors to teach online. Decreased revenue came both from declines in tuition and housing as well as a lack of events, students no longer spending money at campus dining establishments and more.

Across Maryland, he said, institutions are focused on using these funds in ways that will help institutions slow the spread of the virus while successfully welcoming students back for a safe, largely in-person semester next fall.

Additionally, half of the money allotted to each college must go directly to students, prioritizing students with “exceptional need” for the money, though different colleges have the ability to allocate funds among their student bodies in different ways.

CCBC is planning to ensure all students get money from the university, with no strings attached in terms of how they use it. The school, which started a new tuition-free program last year that 81% of students took advantage of in the fall to attend on full or partial scholarships, said its commitment to students’ financial stability kept it afloat throughout the pandemic. Unlike many other institutions, CCBC did not decline in enrollment during the pandemic.

“The intent is to give some extra advantage to low-income students, so we will make sure each student will receive a check that he or she can use to pay the rent, to buy shoes, to pay tuition or whatever they want to do,” said the college’s President Sandra Kurtinitis.

At Prince George’s Community College, which will receive $25.8 million through the American Rescue Plan, funding from the past two COVID-19 relief acts went to Pell Grant-eligible students first, as well as some continuing education students pursuing professional certifications, according to Anne Shepard, director of grants and resource development.

The college also offered the money, which can be use on any number of expenses including housing, textbooks and tuition, up to other members of the student body on a first-come first-served basis.

In a reversal from Trump’s policy, the Biden administration also said student grants can be given to international students and those who are in the U.S. illegally.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the funding makes sure the hardest-hit students “have the opportunity to enroll, continue their education, graduate and pursue their careers.”

Like all colleges and universities, PGCC and CCBC are still working out exactly what they will do with the other half of funds, which are intended to help universities reduce the spread of the coronavirus and retain students whose education was disrupted by the pandemic.

Kurtinitis is planning to allot at least half of that directly to students, as well. The remaining quarter may be put towards things like strengthening the campus’s technology and cybersecurity to improve the delivery of online classes.

PGCC has also used federal aid for new technology and improved safety protocols. Upcoming expenditures may include continued training for professors teaching online, technologies, like virtual reality, that can enhance remote courses or expenses related to payroll.

Shepard said the college, which has experienced budget challenges due to the pandemic, is appreciative of this latest round of relief allowing them to continue offsetting those costs.

“We’ve had sort of the twin (challenges) of all these new needs and budgets that are reduced. So, the relief funding, I would say, has really been instrumental in helping us address that gap,” she said. “We’re extremely grateful for the opportunity that these relief funds will provide, especially for our students and more largely for our community.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story stated that PGCC hired employees to take the temperatures of people entering campus, which it did not. It also erroneously stated that students were to use relief money for costs related to attending PGCC. Students are allowed to use the money however they want.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.