Harvard University has refused a call from President Donald Trump to return millions in coronavirus bailout money, insisting it needs it for financial aid. Trump has threatened to “look at” Harvard’s fat $41-billion endowment
The deep-pocketed Ivy League school stated on Tuesday that it would not return $8.6 million in ‘emergency’ funding allotted as part of last month’s $2.2 trillion CARES Act, despite pleas from several politicians, including Trump and some members of Congress. The generous bailout package showered cash on educational institutions of all stripes without regard for their existing financial reserves, only stipulating that at least half the money go to financial aid for students.
Harvard’s refusal followed a press briefing in which Trump called on Harvard, with one of the largest endowments “in the country, maybe in the world,” to pay back the government’s largesse. “Harvard is going to pay the money back and they shouldn’t be taking it,” Trump had told reporters on Tuesday.
Perhaps attempting to defuse popular rage, however, the elite institution had already pledged to direct “100 percent of the [bailout] funds to financial assistance to students” in a statement emailed to reporters on Monday. Funding would be distributed “based on student financial need,” university spokesperson Jason Newton promised, and would come in addition to unspecified but “significant” support the university had already provided some students with travel, living expenses, and “supporting students’ transition to online education.”
Harvard should give back the money now. Their whole “endowment” system should be looked at! https://t.co/LcjOcsnCWT
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 22, 2020
Trump wasn’t done with Harvard, however, responding to their refusal in a late-night tweet with a threat to “look at” their “whole ‘endowment’ system” if they did not return the funds.
While the coronavirus bailout passed both houses of Congress unanimously, several members of Congress were upset to see Harvard receiving so much money while Americans struggled to secure funding to keep their businesses afloat. “Taxpayer relief funds should go to those in real need,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R) tweeted on Sunday. The Harvard alum pointed out that the school’s massive endowment equates to “$13mm per student, or $171mm per faculty member.”
“Universities with billions & billions stashed away in endowments should get no taxpayer money until they have tapped those endowments,” Missouri senator Josh Hawley tweeted on Monday, calling the bailout of the wealthy college “obscene.”
The aid packages were calculated based on each school’s total number of students and the percentage receiving federal financial aid, but notably did not take into account how well-upholstered their coffers already were. Tuition for Harvard undergraduates currently runs an eye-popping $47,730 per term – plus a hefty slate of fees. Students living on campus end up paying upwards of $70,000 for the privilege. It’s not clear if students forced to “transition” to online study received a partial refund.
Harvard isn’t the only elite university to be lavished with coronavirus cash. Yale University pulled down $6.9 million despite sitting on a $30.3 billion endowment, while Stanford University got $7.4 million in bailout bucks despite a $27.7 billion endowment. Columbia University was a big winner with $12.8 million, though its $11 billion endowment is chump change compared to its Ivy League brethren. $14 billion in total was distributed to colleges and universities as part of the bailout.
However, Harvard administrators want students to know the school is suffering, too. The university’s chief financial officer told campus outlet the Harvard Crimson last week that the value of its endowment, estimated at $40.9 billion in June, has declined to ‘only’ the “mid-30-billion range” due to the stock market crash.