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INVESTIGATES: OK Higher Education receives millions in CARES Act funding

Posted at 5:56 PM, Aug 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-26 21:01:14-04

TULSA, Okla. — $14 Million in CARES Act funds were distributed to higher education institutions across the country.

More than 100 Oklahoma schools received that money to help with student aid and costs incurred due to significant changes in how institutions deliver curriculum.

One Tulsa Welding School student says the CARES grant changed her life.

"It was more of a blessing than just helping little things. It absolutely helped my life," Cassie Duncan said. “I'm a mother of two children, and that's just me and them. We were in a place in our lives that we had nowhere to stay. We were trying to find a place to live.”

Duncan says the pandemic made things so hard for her family, they were moving into a women’s shelter.

“And we were blessed enough to get into a home for women and children. And then it was two days after that that the CARES Act money came in," Duncan said. “It was because of that that I was able to furnish everything I needed for my children and my home.”

Her story is a lot like other students across the country.

The COO of Tulsa Welding School Brandon Milligan says the funds came to the rescue of many students.

“Of course, due to operational changes at the campus many of our students had to make adjustments to their schedules in school, we had to quickly switch to online learning and of course a lot of our students, honestly, didn't have Wi-Fi and internet access, and items like that," Milligan said. "So, the cares icons really came in handy to help get them situated for the new learning dynamic.”

Rogers State University Vice President of Finance Mark Rasor says the application process was fairly simple and students were approved if they said they needed help with a number of things.

“So, additional travel expenses, technology expenses, having to buy additional curriculum healthcare expenses, just a general area of expense. And if they indicated a need, we didn't make them prove that, but we just accepted that,” Rasor said. “Students received grants from anywhere from $600 to $2,500.”

Students who had to make a shift mid-year were able to focus on class and less on the financial toll.

“It has definitely made online classes more accessible," Rogers State Junior Hannah Smoot said.

Here’s the Financial breakdown from Green Country schools:

The University of Oklahoma: $17,935,530

Oklahoma State University: $16,765,725

Rogers State University: $2,586,804

Oral Roberts University: $2,933,238

Tulsa Community College: $7,980,293

Tulsa Welding School: $5,505,774

“We definitely would have lost students had these funds not came in," Milligan said. "They were they were a godsend honestly.”

Fifty percent of these funds are required to go toward direct student aid and be reported on the schools website.

The remainder of the money can also go to student aid or used for costs due to significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the pandemic.

Schools have until March of 2021 to use the CARES Act money.

While the CARES funding has been beneficial to those who have received it, some schools were hesitant to take the funds.

The University of Tulsa was one of those schools.

“Schools didn't really have like a clear idea of what they could and couldn't do with the funds until June when the department released an interim final rule on the student eligibility piece,”said Megan Coval, vice president of policy and federal relations with NASFAA.

The university did eventually accept the funds, getting a little more than $2.5 million.

“By the time that we reached the beginning of the summer, maybe the end of the spring, we recognized that we needed to accept the funds if for no reason other than to get that 50% to our students who needed it,” said Paige Francis with TU.

Francis was concerned the lack of clear guidelines could cause a problem down the road.

“I would really like some just some guardrails on how we're supposed to be spending," Francis said.

The university spent $1.3 million on direct student aid.

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