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During its weekly telephone town halls, NACUBO is asking its members to respond to flash polls on emerging topics of concern to business officers in light of COVID-19. Results are collected during the telephone town hall and through the week.

NACUBO’s May 19 flash poll focused on how colleges and universities have used or intend to use the designated institutional share of CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HERF). Under the CARES Act, one half of emergency federal aid is for institutional grants, which can be used to cover any costs associated with significant changes to instructional delivery due to the coronavirus.  

NACUBO received 137 valid responses to the May 19 poll: 71 four-year private non-profit institutions, 36 four-year public institutions, 24 two-year public institutions, and six institutions categorized as “other.”

The poll results indicate that the vast majority of participating institutions have applied for federal relief, and most have already received the institutional portion of their CARES Act funds. Among colleges and universities that have already decided what to do with their institutional grants, most prioritize offsetting refunds related to room and board. In addition, many of the participating schools have used or plan to use the institutional share of their CARES Act funds to provide more aid to students.

Our open-ended question for this poll asked: "What other CARES Act institutional grant fund issues have you faced?" When analyzing the results, the following themes emerged:

1. Institutions remain uncertain about how CARES Act funds may be used. Schools are unsure how to interpret certain requirements and restrictions that the federal government has placed on CARES Act emergency funds.

  • “Can the indirect cost be applied or not?”
  • “Unclear how to interpret 'tuition refund expenses.'" 
  • “Lack of guidance for institutions without housing and dining as to what is considered an eligible expense.”
  • “Are colleges able to offset tuition refund expenses for refunds made to students who are ineligible for CARES emergency grants, i.e. international students?”

2. Federal restrictions limit what institutional costs qualify for reimbursement. CARES Act funds can’t be used to cover all COVID-19-related expenses, leaving many institutions struggling to absorb unexpected costs and revenue losses caused by the pandemic.

  • “Our largest expenses, outside of housing and dining refunds, don't appear to qualify.”
  • “Refunding housing for non-Title IV students and not being able to reimburse ourselves for housing refunds using CARES Act Institutional portion is expensive."
  • “The CARES Act funding is predominantly focused on costs incurred, very little on revenue loss.”

3. CARES Act compliance creates additional administrative burden. Understanding new institutional obligations and preparing appropriate documentation create considerable administrative burden at a time when schools are already strapped for resources.

  • “Additional workload to manage, account for, and distribute grants to students”
  • “The difficulty of navigating the online systems for the application”
  • “Administrative burden”



Ken Redd

Senior Director, Research and Policy Analysis


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