Jonathan Crimmins’ recent column in The Times Record (“Pay Day,” April 24) examining the so-called “pay day” that Maine’s colleges and universities received from the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund fell victim to his glaring lack of knowledge about where this funding came from or how it is supposed to be used.

I am the president of Saint Joseph’s College of Maine. My team has been working hard to deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, from helping students complete their spring courses at a distance to managing the consequences of the significant revenue loss resulting from the shut down of our state. We were happy to steward this CARES Act funding for three reasons:

1. Because we care about our students. CARES Act funding was formula driven and weighted toward lower income/Pell eligible students. Half of the $649,000 distributed to Saint Joseph’s must go directly to students to be used for expenses they incurred due to the pandemic. These funds cannot be used to cover any institutional costs. Unfortunately, Mr. Crimmins does not mention this fact at all.

2. Because we care about our students’ families. We used the rest of our CARES funds (and much more) to refund a portion of room and board charges, since students left campus in March and cannot return this semester. This was the right thing to do, even considering the seven-figure hit to our income. Our Saint Joe’s families stretch financially to educate their children – many the first in their family to attend college – and these refunds provide just a bit of relief in tough economic times. Unfortunately, Mr. Crimmins never called to ask us about that.

3. Because we care about our community. Our college is an economic engine of Maine’s Lakes Region. We employ 460 wonderful people and contribute close to $100,000,000 a year to Maine’s economy. But we are a non-profit, not a wealthy corporation. Like most colleges, 80 percent of our endowment – which is in fact smaller than the figure Mr. Crimmins bandied about – can only be used to provide scholarships to students, not to fund COVID-related costs. In effect, both our existing endowment and the CARES funds are supporting our students and their families, more than half of whom live in Maine. We would have been happy to share this insight with Mr. Crimmins had he reached out to us as he prepared his piece.

We appreciate Mr. Crimmins’ instinct to look into imbalances in CARES Act funding, because they certainly do exist. But singling out Maine’s institutions of higher education instead of, say, multinational corporations that took small business funds, seems like a missed opportunity to highlight real inequities that are being exposed and perpetuated in this turbulent moment.

Jim Dlugos is the president of St. Joseph’s College in Standish.

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