Eastern Michigan University response to stories in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Politico about the EMU CARES Grant

YPSILANTI --  Eastern Michigan University is working to set the record straight after stories were published on April 29, 2020 in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Politico that inaccurately portray the University's new EMU CARES Grant and connections to the federal CARES Act. 

Background

The EMU CARES Grant for undergraduate students was announced on April 9, 2020. A second announcement expanding the program to graduates students was distributed on April 17, 2020. 

The one-time grant was designed for students taking summer classes, providing $500 to eligible students, undergraduate and graduate, enrolling in one three-credit course, and $1,000 for all students, undergraduate and graduate, enrolling in two courses, or six-credit hours. It applies to current students as well as guest and transfer students who enroll in Eastern’s more than 650 online/virtual summer courses, which begin May 4.

The EMU CARES Grant is designed to offset new costs and other hurdles students face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the additional expenses associated with online and hybrid courses. It provides an additional benefit to students to help them persist in their education and complete their degrees.

It should be noted due to its relevance to the discussion of the Chronicle and Politico stories, the University did not detail the source of funding for EMU CARES in its announcements. The purpose of the announcements is to let students know that EMU CARES grants are available.   

Chronicle and Politco stories

The Chronicle of Higher Education story is based on a false premise: that Eastern might be using (or planning to use) some of its federal CARES Act allocation improperly. Politico also picked up the story the same day. The opening sentence of the story in the Chronicle states the following: "Eastern Michigan University appears to be distributing Cares Act student-relief funds to summer-school studentsin the form of tuition credit, a move that may violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the coronavirus-stimulus law." This statement, the opening sentence to the story, is false. To this day none of the federal CARES Act funds dedicated to student support have been distributed to students. The University is actively developing programs for these federal funds. Moreover,Eastern Michigan has never stated any intent to use the student-directed half of the Cares Act distribution to fund the EMU CARES summer grant. The Chronicle's assertions are false and purposely conflate the Congressional CARES Act funds with the EMU CARES program. The two are separate.

Federal CARES Act

The Chronicle article concerns itself with the CARES Act, the federal law passed by Congress in March, which (in part) allocates two separate amounts of money to assist universities affected by the novel coronavirus. The CARES Act provides that halfof the federal funds must be earmarked for "emergency financial aid grants to students" (hereafter, the "student-grant funds"). The other half of the CARES Act money (the "institutional funds") may be used by universities to help defray their expenses from converting classes to online formats, and other disruptions caused by the virus.

Published allegations and University response

1. Allegation or Implication of Misuse of Federal Funds. The story mainly sets out to imply that Eastern is planning to use the federal CARES Act's student-grant funds --and only those funds -- to pay out our EMU CARES grants. 

This is false. As we told the Chronicle, the EMU CARES grants will be funded by several sources: institutional sources, alumni grants, endowment funds, and, yes, federal and state funds when and if they become available. There may be some CARES Act funds requested to assist in this funding effort. But by no means is it EMU'sintent to use any CARES Act money improperly. Where the CARES Act allows Eastern to use funds to help with these grants, it will do so. Where it does not, we will not. Period. We will comply scrupulously with both the letter, and the spirit, of the CARES Act. And specifically, we have no intention of using the student-grant CARES Act funds to pay for any program where it would be inappropriate to do so. We have never stated any intent to use the student-grant funds to pay for, much less solely source, our EMU CARES incentive.

2. Speculation of a Contract Violation. Second, the Chronicle article alleges that using federal CARES Act money for the purpose of programs like EMU CARES grants could violate the agreement we signed with the federal government to receive this money.  

This, too, is demonstrably false. The CARES Act contains two types of money for universities to use. Although the article concerns itself with the "student-grant" money described above, the other half of the CARES Act money may be used by institutions to fund exactly the kind of program envisioned by EMU CARES grants. In fact, the Department of Education (DOE)  issued an FAQ regarding this money, clarifying that "[a]s long as awarding scholarships and providing payment for future academic terms are costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirusor, if provided to students in the form of emergency financial aid, are for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus, such uses are allowable." (DOE FAQ re: Institutional CARES Act funds, Question 7.)

The Chronicle's article therefore critically misstates the facts regarding allowable purposes of institutional CARES Act money. The DOE itself has answered this question.

3.  Summer Enrollment for Entitlement to CARES Act funds. Next, the article states that, "On its website, Eastern Michigan advertises that students can receive Cares Grant funds by enrolling in its summer courses." This, too, is false. Again, our website advertises the EMU CARES opportunity for summer enrollment. It nowhere indicates -- nor has Eastern ever said -- that students can apply for entitlement to their federal student-grant funds only by registering for summer courses. The article again improperly implies that the EMU CARES grant amounts are made up solely of the federal student-grant CARES Act dollars. This is not the case, as Eastern has repeatedly explained.

4. A "New" Technology Fee.  Fourth, the article falsely alleges that EMU has invented a "new" technology fee to charge students, that EMU CARES Act grants would partially be used to cover. This allegation implies that we are somehow underhandedly diverting student money to our own use, through invention of a new fee to fund with the student-grant CARES Act money.

This allegation is particularly egregious, and it, too, is provably false. Eastern's fee for online classes has been in place for over a decade. There is nothing new about the fee. Our EMU CARES grants are aimed, in part, at alleviating the burden of this fee, so students can take online classes without having to pay more for them. The Chronicle's assertion that the fee is new, or invented with the CARES Act is mind, is irresponsible.

May 05, 2020

Written by:
Official Statements

Contact:
Geoff Larcom
glarcom@emich.edu
734-417-9658