Piggy bank on school books

The federal government started sending out stimulus checks to millions of Americans a month ago. Now colleges and universities are doing something much the same.

Local schools are now sending payments of several hundred dollars each — the amounts vary by campus — to many of their students.

Schools are not spending their own money. Rather, they’re distributing money given them by the U.S. Department of Education through the CARES Act — the same federal legislation responsible for the stimulus checks, the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses and better unemployment benefits for laid-off workers meant to help the nation endure the COVID-19 pandemic.

College leaders say the money will be a big help to students, many of whom borrowed money or need scholarships and other financial aid to attend school.

“Our goal is to help as many GTCC students as possible, and we recognize some of our students have a greater financial need during this time,” GTCC President Anthony Clarke said. “Funds from the CARES Act allow us to provide much-needed assistance so our students can continue pursuing their educational goals.”

The nation’s colleges and universities split nearly $14 billion in CARES Act money. The Education Department divided up the money largely based on enrollment and the number of students eligible for Pell Grants, the federal college scholarships that go to low- and middle-income students. UNCG, the area’s largest four-year institution, is expecting a total of nearly $18.6 million in CARES Act money. Bennett College, which has fewer than 300 students, is expecting less than $800,000.

The Education Department put only one main condition on the money: at least half of the money sent to each school must go to students as emergency financial aid — cash grants to help students cover the cost of the disruptions when colleges closed their campuses this spring and moved most instruction online. This money can be used for food, housing, health care, child care, course materials, technology or any other expense related to the sudden change of plans.

Because the Education Department largely left it up to schools to decide which students would get money, and how much, the distributions differ widely by campus.

GTCC expects to award between $125 and $1,000 each to about 4,000 students. Students who qualify for the maximum award are those who took more credit hours in the spring semester and have more financial need according to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Payments will start going out Friday.

N.C. A&T began sending money to about 10,000 students this week. Students who are eligible for Pell Grants will get $900 each. Graduate and undergraduate students who aren’t eligible for Pell funding will get $500 each. All students enrolled less than half the time will get $250 apiece.

More than 80% of A&T’s students will receive emergency aid.

“Our stance is, it doesn’t matter who you are,” said Robert Pompey, A&T’s vice chancellor for business and finance. “Everybody’s been affected by the pandemic.”

UNCG plans to send out between about $500 to $1,200 apiece to about 11,000 students, with the neediest students getting up to $2,000. Payments began going out this week.

The Greensboro university is using a sliding scale to award emergency aid. Bigger payments will go to students who get Pell Grants, but many other students with financial need as measured by the FAFSA will get money, too.

UNCG students who withdrew from one or more spring semester classes or didn’t pay their college bills will get extra. UNCG officials said dropped classes and outstanding balances are signs that students and their families are in dire financial straits.

“The main guiding principle is to distribute the funds to the most students with the most need,” UNCG Chancellor Frank Gilliam said.

State universities in Winston-Salem have come up with differing plans as well.

About 60% of students at UNC School of the Arts will get CARES Act money. Undergraduates will receive between $200 and $1,000 each, with Pell-eligible students receiving the most. Graduate students with financial need will get $500. Payments will continue to go out through the end of the month.

Winston-Salem State University said it will award $735 each to 2,900 students. Payments will go out starting Monday. Students who didn’t receive initial payments can apply for reimbursements if they can show financial hardship.

Contact John Newsom at

(336) 373-7312 and follow

@JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.

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