LSU campus (copy)

LSU and other colleges and universities are set to get $269 million from the federal stimulus bill that won final congressional approval earlier this week. 

LSU and other public colleges and universities are set to get $268 million from the latest federal stimulus bill, up 82% from what schools got earlier this year, officials said Wednesday.

The money represents Louisiana's share of higher education dollars contained in the legislation, which won final congressional approval earlier this week after months of political wrangling.

A new issue surfaced Tuesday when President Donald Trump said he wants changes in the measure, including $2,000 checks for most citizens rather than the $600 included in the bill.

Trump has until Monday to act on the legislation.

A total of $23 billion was allocated for higher education and $54 billion for public schools.

The plan is called the Bipartisan Emergency COVID Relief Act of 2020.

The Board of Regents, which oversees colleges and universities and made the announcement, said the $268 million is an estimate.

It would be $121 million more than colleges got earlier this year from the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act.

Louisiana's higher education system includes 14 two-year schools, 14 four-year schools and two medical schools.

Enrollment totals about 214,000 students.

Private colleges in Louisiana and elsewhere are set to get aid from a separate pot of money.

Exactly how the $268 million would be used is unclear.

State officials are waiting for guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.

The key criteria in the first round of federal aid announced in April was the number of students who qualified for federal Pell Grants, which are based on financial need.

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said earlier this week that officials are "always grateful" for dollars that aid Pell Grant recipients and to expand the infrastructure needed for students to take classes online, especially in rural areas.

Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System, also cited student aid as as priority.

Henderson noted that, in the past decade, the state has shifted much of the costs to attend college from the state to students.

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"Students are still financially impacted by the virus," Henderson said. "It is vitally important that they have the resources needed to continue their education."

Henderson's system oversees 92,000 students at nine colleges, including the University of New Orleans, Southeastern Louisiana University and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Colleges just finished their fall semester, which included a large percentage of classes held online.

Students at many schools did not return to campus after Thanksgiving, and took final exams online, to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Henderson and Reed also said there is need for dollars to help finance testing for the virus during the spring semester.

"For us to get ahead of this we will have to do widespread, continual testing," Henderson said. "To identify the cases and then to isolate and treat them in an effective way."

Weekly testing of students is recommended by federal officials.

How much LSU can expect from the $268 million is unclear.

The school got $19 million from the first round of aid. If LSU got the same percentage this time it would total about $35 million.

Regents also said the state can expect $22 million for both colleges and universities and public schools through the Governor's Emergency Education Relief.

That bucket of money totaled $50 million earlier this year and, like this time, was left to Gov. John Bel Edwards on how it was spent.

Colleges got $15.5 million of that allocation, with $10 million used to retrain 5,000 men and women who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

The rest of the money went to public schools for computers and improved internet access.

Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said earlier this week workforce training remains the top priority of the LCTCS amid heavy demand.

Sullivan said the latest assistance can also help with day-to-day operations amid a 12% drop in enrollment. "A large part of that is people saying 'I don't know what life is going to look like,'" he said of the decline.

Officials of the state Department of Education are still calculating what Louisiana public schools would get from the relief act.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.