Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier staff writer
On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed by former President Donald Trump. It included the distribution of$14 billion for higher education institutions through the Higher Education Emergency Fund.
According to Brad Reeder, assistant vice president for Financial Services, Berry received about $1.6 million from that first round in March. The second round was just approved; however, Berry is still in the process of how it will be distributed and used, according to Andrew Bressette, vice president for enrollment, said. The preliminary amounts for the second round are another $794,906 directly for students and $1,500,000 for costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re trying to go through the guidelines which have been changing and probably will take us another week or two to go through all the federal guidelines and make sure we know what the rules are and their eligibility criteria,” Bressette said.
According to Reeder, there is planning in process for a third round, with some discussion that it will not include higher education like the last two. However, nothing is confirmed yet.
“Hopefully, if something is going to happen, hopefully higher education is included in,” Reeder said. “That will help our students and help out Berry College.”
Berry has used the money provided from the CARES Act for two main purposes: providing emergency aid to students and covering costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of the aid was required by the law to be given to student aid, the other half for the institution itself. Therefore, the $1.6 million was split evenly at $794,906 between the two distributions.
According to Noemi Sarrion, director of financial aid, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) was used to determine the students with the most need. From there, they were allocated a certain amount of aid. Students were also able to contact the Office of Financial Aid directly and discuss potential problems not reflected on the FAFSA application.
“Sometimes, you know, the FAFSA reflects information of a certain period of fiscal year and after that time something may have occurred or some circumstances may have happened in the family where they need to reach out to us and let us know,” Sarrion said.
According to Reeder, some of the unique spending due to the COVID-19 pandemic includes the purchasing of PPE materials, technology and other investments to provide a more accessible virtual learning experience and campus-wide COVID-19 testing. It also included buying cleaning supplies and making temporary changes to facilities for social distancing, according to Sarrion.
Reeder also added that the unknown of whether or not employees and students will be able to come to work after getting COVID-19 or having to quarantine due to possible exposure are another cost. At the same time, certain costs, such as athletic conferences, have not been as high this academic year due to the pandemic.
Bressette explained that the money for the institution as part of the CARES Act has helped Berry to not have to increase student tuition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Back when the pandemic first locked Berry down, money from the student aid portion of the CARE Act was used to help cover some of the sudden travel costs of students who had been on foreign exchange trips for the spring semester, according to Bressette.
“I think it’s been a really helpful thing to many of our students who suddenly found themselves in a weird or unusual place,” Bressette said.
Besides the CARES Act, a number of Berry alumni also helped raise money for students and their families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bressette hopes that some of the new changes brought on by the pandemic that have proven effective will be maintained once COVID-19 is more under control.
“I think there’ll be a lot of review of what did we do differently, what’s worked for the institution, what has worked for our students and so I think there’ll be some critical analysis and I hope that we don’t just go back to doing what we did, but we take what we’ve learned and continue to make you know Berry and experience for our students even better than it was before,” Bressette said.
More information on the CARES Act and how it relates to Berry can be found at https://www.berry.edu/healthy-together/.