Higher Education Relief Fund to aid Delaware colleges

After an unusual fall semester due to COVID-19, Delaware’s colleges and universities will be able to seek financial relief through a $45 million Higher Education Relief Fund, Gov. John Carney announced Tuesday.

“This COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly everyone, including higher education institutions,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “Delaware’s colleges and universities not only provide students with an excellent education, but also contribute to economic development in our communities. This funding will assist with the expenses to help ensure a safe environment.”

The Higher Education Relief Fund is funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Eligible institutions include University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Delaware Technical Community College, Wesley College, Wilmington University, Goldey-Beacom College and Delaware College of Art and Design.

Across the state, the fiscal impact of the pandemic has been felt by all schools. Enrollment has dipped, on-campus residency has had to decrease to allow for space while the need for technology has increased.

Eligible colleges and universities must use the funding on specific expenses that are directly related to COVID-19 response. These expenses include:

• Personal protective equipment

• Equipment purchased to make buildings suitable for COVID-19 safety (Plexiglass, air purifiers, etc.)

• Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting services

• Expenses for technical assistance on mitigation of COVID-19-related threats

• Costs incurred to conduct enhanced screenings for employees and students

• Technology and teleservices needed to adjust to COVID-19 response

• Signage necessary because of the pandemic

• Marketing and media expenses incurred to respond to COVID-19

At the beginning of the semester, the University of Delaware estimated millions in losses due to housing and dining, course delivery, financial aid, frozen tuition and safety precautions like personal protective equipment, contact tracing, hand sanitation stations and increased cleaning.

In September, the university announced that, without mitigation, it would be facing a $250 million deficit this academic year, and had already drawn $100 million from its endowment. The university moved to take several cost-saving measures that included furloughs and pay cuts.

“We are grateful to the governor for his assistance,” said Andrea Boyle, a spokeswoman for the university, in a statement. “Our institution has experienced major financial repercussions due to the pandemic, including millions spent on PPE, safety equipment and distance learning technology. We look forward to utilizing this support to keep our students and community safe and healthy.”

Delaware Technical Community College is a state agency and has had other funds available to them through the crisis, said spokeswoman Christine Gillan, but the extra funding is helpful to offset other expenses.

“We have incurred extra expenses, and we appreciate the fact that the governor is well aware of the expenses that higher education has had to incur as a result of this pandemic,” she said.

She noted there has been custodial and sanitary supplies as some students have to come to campus to complete labs and a need for proper PPE.

“The majority of our classes now are in a distance learning format, which has required some investments in technology, computers and other technology like WiFi expansion,” she said.

DSU students headed back home for Thanksgiving break and won’t return to campus until January for the spring semester. While its classes were online, students did return to campus for the fall semester.

“Like our sister institutions across Delaware, we’ve experienced significant additional expenses in keeping our employees and students safe during the COVID pandemic,” said Dr. Steve Newton, director of media relations at DSU. “We’ve been collaborating with the state on many issues — from testing to PPE — and the university is extremely appreciative that Gov. Carney has announced this fund. He’s always been a strong supporter of higher education.”