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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Budget update announces funding for institutional support, direct student aid

Western received millions from stimulus bill for institutional support, student aid

An illustration of an individual holding a check designated to Western Washington University students.
An illustration of an individual holding a check designated to Western Washington University students. The December 2020 stimulus bill gave WWU $12.4 million for institutional support and $5.8 million in direct student aid. // Illustration by Sophia Lindstrom

By Alison Ward

Western Washington University received money from a stimulus bill passed by Congress in December and is working on internal budget requests and needs for the biennium. 

The stimulus bill gave Western $12.4 million for institutional support in one-time funding and $5.8 million in direct student aid. This funding will support employment, housing and dining fees, operations, planning towards the next biennium and more.

“The institutional portion, which is $12.4 million, lets us have more discretion on how we can apply it, and it is meant to help support institutions of higher education,” said Faye Gallant, Western’s executive director of budget and financial planning.

While the funding for institutional support will provide funds for the university, this second direct student aid from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund allocation is managed by the Financial Aid Department and will be awarded to students within the next 12 months.

Financial aid has been informed by the U.S Department of Education that student eligibility requirements for this second allocation will differ from the first allocation under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. Financial aid is in the process of reviewing the new requirements and seeking clarifications as needed, said Clara Capron, the assistant vice president of enrollment and student services.

Direct student aid can help students with needs like relocation expenses, course materials, food, healthcare, technology needs, transportation, child care and utilities, Gallant said.

“It is good the government is giving $5.8 million for financial aid, as it’s considering a forgotten demographic affected by the pandemic,” said Lucy Mallory, a second-year Western student.

Dennis Jones, president emeritus of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, said higher education institutions have seen their financial viability threatened by at least three major changes as a result of the pandemic. COVID-19 mitigation, loss of revenue from a reduced number of students on campus and state support reduction show why stimulus bills are so important, Jones said.

Since Washington state experienced significant revenue loss, Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing to furlough higher education staff in his operating budget proposal and a Senate bill could make the furlough be mandatory, according to an email sent to Western staff from Gallant.

There is no news on whether the proposal to furlough staff will stick, and the likelihood of that proposal sticking in the legislature depends on the next revenue forecast the state gets in March, Gallant said.

Washington state and Western are working on the budget for the biennium years 2021 and 2023. Each division at Western is making internal budget requests and needs for the biennium, Gallant said. 

“Typically, what happens is the state passes their two-year budget plan, and then Western passes their two-year budget plan as a result of what we get from the state,” Gallant said. “Then we have an opportunity in the second year of the biennium to come back and make any needed adjustments, because you never know what could happen.”

Gallant added that the budget strategy analysis group will look at ideas in terms of budget strategies that have been submitted from across the university and all proposed ideas will be publicly posted March 15 on the budget and financial planning website.

Jones said universities need to change their educational and business models in fundamental ways to be relieved from financial problems. Jones suggested colleges can move to a hybrid model or collaborate with other institutions to help with financial problems.

Until more is posted by the budget and financial team, information reports on the CARES Act expenditures through December 2020 are available to the public via Western’s CARES Act.

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