President’s speeches, letters, and articles
Subject: HEROES Act
June 2, 2020
Senator Jeff Merkley
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C., 20510
Dear Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley,
First, I want to thank you for your leadership as we navigate these tumultuous and uncharted waters. Being relatively new to Oregon, I have been impressed by the bold and thoughtful leadership and strong support for education at the local, state, and federal levels. It is appreciated and admired.
I write today to advocate for the HEROES Act that was recently passed by the House. Specifically, I want to stress the urgent need for the $37 billion slated for higher education, and more specifically, the $7 billion for private, nonprofit colleges. The higher-education sector plays such an important role in Oregon’s economy, and we must maintain our vitality to help fuel its economic recovery.
The uncertainty that plagues us all is being felt especially hard in academia. We are having to readjust financial aid packages as family members lose jobs. This extra financial burden is coming at a time when college endowments are contracting and the population of college-age Americans is on the decline. The uncertainty of knowing if students will be experiencing life in our classrooms, dorms, and dining halls or through the Internet is making many students second-guess their decision to attend in the fall.
We are very appreciative for the support provided by the CARES Act, but it is simply not of the magnitude needed to keep employees in their jobs, communities strong, and students enrolled in school. The higher education community is recommending that any additional funding for students is directed at paying educational costs, including tuition, room, board and related expenses. Neither students nor institutions are well served if colleges are used as a passthrough for grants without sufficient accountability to ensure the funding helps students succeed and complete college.
Reed took substantial financial losses reimbursing students for room and board. Fortunately, we have a level of financial stability that allowed us to absorb those losses without making cuts to the academic program or laying off personnel. Moving forward, however, there are too many variables to predict how long we will be able to sustain our current levels of funding.
At private colleges where layoffs become a necessity, current Department of Labor guidance would require states to bill self-insured nonprofits 100% of their Unemployment Insurance amounts and only allow for a 50% reimbursement back to the nonprofits from the states. Like Reed, many private colleges self-insure, and this will be an enormous financial burden to those already struggling to deal with liquidity issues. Legislation should account for this, perhaps by ensuring states can waive 50% of amounts self-insured nonprofits owe in Unemployment Insurance.
As we look to the fall in hope of providing our academic program on campus, medical professionals and our own researchers are emphasizing the need for effective testing. As COVID-19 testing becomes more available, colleges should be given the testing resources necessary to ensure that it is safe for all students, faculty, and staff to return to campus and that they will remain safe while on campus. Federal funding that will help colleges adequately prepare and effectively execute the return of students to the classroom will protect our campuses and larger communities. This is of the utmost importance.
Thank you for your continued support. Be safe. Be well.