The CARES Act, enacted in May 2020, provided relief to U.S. colleges and universities via the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, but mandated that at least 50% of the funds should be used to “provide emergency financial aid grants to students for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus (including eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care).”
The Biden administration has announced that colleges and universities can distribute this aid to students regardless of their immigration status. This revises the prior administration’s interpretation that only students whose status would qualify them for federal financial aid – chiefly U.S. citizens, permanent residents, refugees and asyleees, could receive CARES Act relief from their higher education institutions. Under that narrower interpretation, college students with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and undocumented students were ineligible for aid.
Currently, at least 19 states allow undocumented students who are residents of their states to pay in-state tuition at public universities, and 7 states allow undocumented students to qualify for financial aid, including California and Texas, two states with large undocumented populations. Higher education can be a path to specialized skills that will enable DACA and undocumented young adults to have an eventual path to permanent legal status.
The Biden administration’s policy change will simplify the process for higher education institutions to distribute COVID relief funds by removing the necessity to parse the legal status of their students in need. Taking steps to make sure that all students can succeed in their pursuit of a college or graduate school degree makes good humanitarian and economic sense.