Harvard says it won’t return $8.6 million in coronavirus relief for students, despite Trump asking

President Trump wants Harvard to return $8.6 million it received in coronavirus relief funding. But the Ivy League university says it’s using the money to help students facing urgent financial needs during the pandemic —and disputed the idea that it took money intended for small businesses.

A reporter asked Mr. Trump at Tuesday’s White House briefing if he was going to request that big companies return money they received through the government’s small-business loan program, as Shake Shack had announced it would do. The president instead brought up Harvard, which had an endowment of $40.9 billion last year.

“Harvard’s going to pay back the money,” Trump said. “They shouldn’t be taking it. I’m not going to mention any other names, but when I saw Harvard — they have one of the largest endowments anywhere in the country, maybe in the world, I guess. They’re going to pay back that money.” 

However, Harvard disputed Mr. Trump’s assertion. The university said it did not apply for the government’s Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses — nor did it receive any funds through that program. 

“President Trump is right that it would not have been appropriate for our institution to receive funds that were designated for struggling small businesses,” the school tweeted. “Like most colleges and universities, Harvard has been allocated funds as part of the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.”

The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund makes up about $14 billion of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package signed by Mr. Trump last month. Harvard said it’s using all of the nearly $9 million it received to “provide direct assistance to students facing urgent financial needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

“This financial assistance will be on top of the support the University has already provided to students – including assistance with travel, providing direct aid for living expenses to those with need, and supporting students’ transition to online education,” Harvard said.

While Harvard has said it’s keeping the money, Stanford, another top-tier American university with a high endowment, said it will return the funds. Stanford said it contacted the Department of Education to ask for its application for relief funds to be “rescinded.” 

Princeton said it will “not accept” funding under the CARES Act. “Princeton has not yet received any of these funds, and never requested any of these funds,” the school said on Twitter

Meanwhile, many in higher education fear that the unprecedented combination of difficulties presented by the coronavirus pandemic could sound a death knell for many colleges throughout the United States. 

“Families will have less money. Many of them won’t have jobs for a while. You know, if they’re relying on investments, they’ll have less investments,” said Dr. Thomas Bailey, president of Teachers College, Columbia University. 

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