In the next couple of months, UC Santa Cruz might be sending students a check to help with the burdens that come with the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be the second time in a year that UCSC will have the chance to provide direct relief to its students.
Help is on the way. But it might not be for everyone.
Through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, the university is being granted an even heftier check in a second round of Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) funds. The university will be given $28.7 million, almost $10 million more than their first round of HEERF funds, through the CARES Act.
Both times, UCSC was mandated to allocate roughly $9.7 million for direct student relief as emergency financial aid grants.
When the university was given nearly $20 million, they chose to give their students only the required amount. Now that they have been given a 50 percent proportional increase, students don’t know if they will be left in the dust.
In a non-pandemic world, the financial struggles that weigh on college students are immense, whether it be from mountains of student loan debt, the possibility of houselessness, looming food insecurity, or other stressors. The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened these struggles, widening the financial gap that students have to jump to get a higher education.
Of the remaining money, almost $9.7 million was used for expenses associated with the transition to remote learning, including almost a million dollars each in technical support and instructional design, and the last $1.5 million was used for minority serving institutions. 12,721 undergraduate and graduate students were eligible for CARES Act relief, with 9,973 receiving emergency grants ranging from $500 to $1,400.
The money that students received from the CARES Act was helpful, but the university only gave the required amount. With this increase in funding, the university has an opportunity to do better, not just for students, but also for the employees who keep UCSC running.
As of 2018, UCSC employs about 8,500 people. When the COVID-19 relief from last spring was awarded, it is unclear how much, if any, of the emergency relief funding was given directly to UCSC staff.
Staff members continued to work despite students being sent home. They continued to maintain the gardens, dorm buildings, dining halls, classrooms, and other facilities that have been left empty for a year, but have potentially gone without a penny of COVID-19 university relief.
With a new and more substantial relief check, UCSC must also expand relief coverage to the employees who keep this institution running.
The university needs to rethink how much it gives directly to students and staff as the world faces a global recession and a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. When relief comes, direct aid needs to be expanded both in quantity and in who is eligible to receive it.
Many UCSC students probably had no idea that this money existed in the first place, but it’s not your fault. The university has failed to be transparent about its plans since the beginning of the pandemic, and has made decisions about money allocation behind closed doors since receiving the first CARES Act check.
As the Department of Education announced this new allocation on Jan. 13, colleges and universities across the country such as Sacramento State, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and Georgia Tech have made announcements on how students can apply for HEERF II funds. While these institutions are doing what they can to best support students, UCSC has been silent.
Because the university has not been transparent in the past, students cannot trust that it will be transparent in the future. Students need to be actively making waves and telling the university that they want to know where this money is going.
UCSC will hit its one-year anniversary of virtual learning by the time relief will be distributed. This time around, there is no reason for $9.7 million to go to “transitioning to virtual learning”. Instead, it should go to direct support for students and employees.
UCSC is about to receive almost $29 million in order to support the people they serve. Whether or not it uses the funds in the best interest of students and staff is up to the administration.