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Harvard Collaborates with Higher Education Lobbyists As Challenges Grow for Colleges and Universities

Massachusetts Hall houses the offices of University President Lawrence S. Bacow.
Massachusetts Hall houses the offices of University President Lawrence S. Bacow. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard is working with higher education lobbying groups to alleviate unforeseen challenges presented by the global coronavirus pandemic, according to University spokesperson Jason A. Newton.

Newton wrote in an email that University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Harvard have been working with other institutions, associations, and student groups to ensure policy makers know of the impacts on institutions and students during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“In many communities, colleges and universities are leading employers as well as home to thousands of students and faculty,” Newton wrote. “Many of us are also on the frontlines of the research and health care response to the coronavirus with intense efforts in our labs as well as engagement with hospital and other community partners.”

“Like elsewhere in the economy, COVID-19 has disrupted higher education and had significant impact, financial and otherwise," he added.

In a Monday interview with the Harvard Gazette — a University-run news publication — Bacow said he has been on calls with the American Council on Education and the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts.

ACE Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs Terry W. Hartle said the pandemic has impacted every aspect of higher education.

“It is easy for people who don't spend a lot of time in higher education to underestimate the impact of the increased costs the schools are seeing and the reduced revenue,” he said.

Hartle said even prominent state schools are facing unprecedented financial burdens. For instance, one Division 1 university in the Big Ten Conference estimates it has incurred $71 million dollars in costs and lost revenue through April 1, according to Hartle.

“Colleges and universities are refunding by our estimate about $8 billion dollars in room and board charges alone,” he said. “Any college, university budgeted that money as if they would be getting it for the full year. Nobody anticipated that for 20 or 25 percent of the year, they would simply have to give that money back.”

Harvard’s $40 billion dollar endowment is in a grave situation as the country faces the pandemic and a possible recession, according to experts.

Though the pandemic affects every institution of higher education, Hartle said that for some institutions, the unexpected costs pose “an existential threat.”

“The implications for some parts of the higher education community are dire,” he said.

Because the needs of different institutions in the higher education industry are “diverse,” Hartle said they “build a consensus set of recommendations for policy makers that we can all stand behind.”

Last month, Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus package to fund legislation that included, among other provisions, providing small-business loans, unemployment benefits, and individual checks to households to relieve the economic effects of the pandemic. It is unclear what lawmakers will prioritize in a possible fourth stimulus bill.

In the third supplemental spending bill, Hartle said ACE lobbied for money to provide discretionary money to colleges and universities, as well AS discrete, emergency grants to students seeking financial aid to help them meet food, shelter, housing, travel, and other needs. The stimulus package set aside $14 billion for higher education to offset costs and fund student grants.

“The fact of the matter is that Congress noted the needs facing institutions and students in the third stimulus,” he said. “We're hoping that in the fourth stimulus we can encourage them to do even more.”

Newton also wrote that Harvard has been collaborating during the pandemic with federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Education, National Institutes of Health, and Department of Homeland Security, to ensure researchers receive adequate support.

“Beyond legislation, we have also worked with leading federal agencies on flexibilities to assist students in emergency costs, ensure research grants can continue to support our skilled workforce even as labs have been mostly shuttered, and to work toward visa systems that remain operational, particularly in critical fields,” he wrote.

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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