Merkley, Colleagues Urge Senate Leadership to Give Higher Education Students and Institutions Much Needed Relief in Upcoming Legislation

Merkley, Colleagues Urge Senate Leadership to Give Higher Education Students and Institutions Much Needed Relief in Upcoming Legislation

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley today led a group of 31 senators in urging Senate leadership to include $47 billion in financial support for students and institutions of higher learning in the upcoming coronavirus relief package.

"Higher education provides a ladder of economic opportunity to our nation’s students while also building a globally competitive workforce. Colleges and universities are also pillars of communities,” the senators wrote in their letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Across the entire higher education sector, institutions last year directly employed 3.6 million individuals. Additionally, research universities are at the forefront in searching for scientific solutions to some of society’s greatest challenges, including COVID-19. These immense contributions to society are at grave risk without additional support.”

“Students are facing complex financial emergencies that threaten their ability to remain on their path to degree completion,” the senators continued. “The needs are particularly pronounced for students of color, low-income students, veterans, and first generation college students. Colleges and universities have taken immediate steps to protect individual health by shifting to remote learning platforms so students can maintain academic progress during the disruption, but face massive increases in expenses combined with a precipitous decline in revenue.”

In their letter, the senators also emphasized the substantial costs and losses already faced by institutions of higher education as enrollment declines and state cuts jeopardize the financial vitality of schools. To meet the needs of these schools and their students during this tumultuous time, the senators requested that significant additional emergency relief be provided by Congress, and that schools receive the flexibility they need to use the funding most effectively within their communities.

“Senator Merkley continues to show enormous leadership in supporting students and higher education,” said Michael H. Schill, President, University of Oregon. “The last CARES bill provided direct financial relief to our students whose lives were disrupted by COVID-19 and to our universities that are suffering ruinous losses. We are incredibly proud and grateful to our senator for his strong and effective advocacy in working to ensure this virus doesn’t stop Oregonians from earning their degrees and achieving opportunity.”

“Southern Oregon University, like our state’s six other public universities, has been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout,” SOU President Linda Schott said. “Our most financially vulnerable students – including many historically underrepresented in higher education – are struggling to find the resources they need to continue their educational journeys. Our institution – which prepares students to effectively participate in the state, national and global economies – is doggedly working through a projected reduction in state funding and an anticipated drop in enrollment this fall. We appreciate Sen. Merkley’s understanding of our predicament and his commitment to higher education’s role as a ladder our students can climb to achieve successful lives of purpose.”

“Community colleges play a critical role in affordably connecting under-served populations to living wage jobs,” said Dr. Cathy Kemper-Pelle, President, Rogue Community College. “This upward economic mobility allows our student to become contributing members of our communities while meeting local employment needs. Everyone wins!”

“Blue Mountain Community College is grateful for Sen. Merkley’s support of higher education as part of the next economic relief package,” said Dennis Bailey-Fougnier, President, Blue Mountain Community College. “We particularly appreciate his plea for more flexibility in the use of the funds to ensure they can truly meet the needs of our students and the College as we continue to navigate the impacts of COVID-19. Community colleges will play a significant role in putting Americans back to work, so additional financial relief is critical for us to meet the changing needs of our workforce and community post-COVID-19.”

“The funding provided in the CARES Act was an important first step in supporting America’s colleges and universities and their students as they work through the impacts of COVID-19,” said Rex Fuller, President, Western Oregon University. “The additional funding requested by Senator Merkley, and many of his colleagues, is an essential next step in ensuring that our colleges and universities have the capacity to enroll and graduate Oregon students who will power Oregon’s recovery.”

"COCC is deeply appreciative to Senators Merkley and Wyden for their support for higher education,” said Dr. Laurie Chesley, President, Central Oregon Community College. “The proposed Federal investment in our students and our institutions ensures ongoing economic recovery for our nation.”

"Our nation's community colleges are the institutions that serve traditionally marginalized populations, providing them with pathways to opportunity and economic mobility through education and skills-building,” said Mark Mitsui, President, Portland Community College. “Across our country, in the months and years to come, community colleges will train millions of individuals ravaged by this recession but will need substantial support to meet this enormous task. With federal funding, my institution is poised to play a vital role in the nation's economic recovery.”

“As educational pedagogy continues to evolve in Oregon and around our country, the economic challenges caused by COVID-19 pose a historic threat to our ability to train future educators, researchers and health care providers. Now more than ever, they are all needed to improve the health and well-being of Oregonians and others and drive a strong economy,” said Danny Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H, FACS, President of Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). “On behalf of OHSU, thank you for your advocacy of this urgent funding relief, Senator Merkley.”  

“I want to express our sincere thanks to Senator Merkley and his colleagues for their steadfast leadership in advocating for additional federal aid for Oregon’s universities and our students which is critical while we navigate this global health crisis,” said Dr. Nagi Naganathan, President of Oregon Institute of Technology.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant financial and emotional hardship for Oregon State University students, staff and faculty, their families and the communities we serve,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “As a public research and land-grant university, the financial deficit we face from this crisis undercuts our ability to fulfill our mission to provide students with the skills they need to realize successful lives, and to conduct innovative research and service to communities for economic and social progress. I’m immensely grateful to Senator Jeff Merkley for his call to action and the support from Senator Ron Wyden to move the U.S. Senate to provide further emergency financial relief for higher education.”

Senator Merkley has been working to bring the concerns and interests of students, educators, and schools throughout Oregon to the table throughout coronavirus relief legislation negotiations—advocating for the funding and resources necessary to support high-quality remote learning and the vitality of schools during the pandemic. Last month, Senator Merkley joined his colleagues in introducing the Emergency Educational Connections Act to help close the homework gap and put internet service within reach for more students, led an effort to put in place a moratorium on internet disconnections for the duration of the pandemic, and joined a bipartisan push for robust funding for America’s K-12 schools, educators, and students in the next pandemic relief bill.

Senator Merkley was joined in sending the letter by U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tom Udall (D-NM), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

The full text of the letter is available here and can be found below.

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Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

Thank you for your swift and robust action to alleviate the health and economic impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). As you prepare for a fourth economic relief package, we respectfully urge you to provide $47 billion in financial support for students and institutions of higher learning.

Higher education provides a ladder of economic opportunity to our nation’s students while also building a globally competitive workforce. Colleges and universities are also pillars of communities. Across the entire higher education sector, institutions last year directly employed 3.6 million individuals. Additionally, research universities are at the forefront in searching for scientific solutions to some of society’s greatest challenges, including COVID-19. These immense contributions to society are at grave risk without additional support.

Congress responded in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to the emergency financial needs of students, colleges, and universities by providing $14 billion in support through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. However, students and institutions are experiencing vastly greater need. Students are facing complex financial emergencies that threaten their ability to remain on their path to degree completion. The needs are particularly pronounced for students of color, low-income students, veterans, and first generation college students. Colleges and universities have taken immediate steps to protect individual health by shifting to remote learning platforms so students can maintain academic progress during the disruption, but face massive increases in expenses combined with a precipitous decline in revenue.

In addition to the substantial costs and losses already faced by institutions, the threat of ongoing financial uncertainty stemming from enrollment declines and state cuts threaten the financial stability of schools. The situation requires significant additional emergency relief from Congress. Congress should also provide more flexibility in the use of funds to ensure that federal investment can be effectively targeted by colleges and universities to meet the needs of students and communities.

We thank you for your support of these critical investments in our nation’s students and institutions of higher learning.

Sincerely,