Higher Learning Advocates Urges Congress to Prioritize Students in COVID-19 Relief Package

WASHINGTON — Earlier today, a bipartisan group of Senators released a framework summary for their $908 billion proposal, dubbed the Bipartisan Emergency COVID Relief Act of 2020. While we are encouraged by bipartisan movement to provide additional COVID relief before the end of the year, we continue to urge Congressional leaders and negotiators to prioritize two critical challenges facing today’s students in college—lack of access to reliable and affordable broadband and connected devices and additional emergency aid that is available to all students.

Due to the pandemic, almost all of today’s students are studying at least partially online. Access to broadband and technology is even more critical now than ever, and we know that too many of today’s students are just making do. Even more so, lack of technology access has the potential to hit underserved students the hardest. A survey commissioned by Higher Learning Advocates found that Black and Latinx students were more likely to rely solely on mobile data to access course work. And low-income students may be struggling most with the cost of high-speed internet and technology. Higher Learning Advocates, along with 60 partner organizations, have urged that Congress address this issue of digital equity and provide assistance for students. We again urge that broadband access for today’s college students be addressed. Federal assistance is needed and overdue. 

Emergency aid—grants provided to students to deal with unexpected costs like medical bills, travel expenses, and rent payments—can help to stem the tide of uncertainty and help students persist in college. While the proposal allocates additional funding for higher education, it is not clear whether it includes direct emergency aid to students, but we believe that it must. While the CARES Act distributed some emergency aid in the spring, the amount was not sufficient to meet student need and some students—such as DACA recipients  and those who had not completed FAFSA—were excluded. Higher Learning Advocates urges Congress to make additional emergency aid funding available to all students. 

Today’s students’ futures—and our economic recovery—depend on these policy changes. We are hopeful that Congress recognizes these pressing needs in any vehicle set to pass by the end of the year.