CSUN gets the most COVID aid of any California university

A visit to the Cal State Northridge Health Center shows an unprecedented stream of federal funds being spent on campus for pandemic relief.

Given the ongoing threat from the pandemic, an office has been converted into a state-of-the-art, specially ventilated isolation room to test and treat patients who may be infected with COVID-19 or other airborne diseases. Patients enter and exit outdoors, avoiding other areas and reducing the risk of exposure. The exam room cost $ 219,000.

Without the federal funds “we would not have made it. Absolutely not, ”said Jason Wang, senior director of physical plant management at the university, of the modernization of the health center.

Cal State Northridge is the sole beneficiary of federal pandemic aid to any public or private university in California, with an inflow of $ 265 million that funds on-demand student scholarships, offsets massive lost revenue, and improves campus health and safety and fulfills myriad Requirements, including technology upgrades.

Across California, three waves of more than $ 9.5 billion in aid go to public and private colleges and universities, by far the most of any state.

Nearby is a campus warehouse with stacks of cardboard boxes with masks, wipes, disinfectant dispenser racks, digital thermometers, and plastic partitions for desks. Corridor floors throughout the campus are now littered with large, round red stickers urging everyone to keep to the right when walking to minimize personal contact.

All of this will improve safety and alleviate concerns as the campus prepares for a partial or full return to face-to-face classes this fall, officials said. “We will simply be prepared for future health and safety requirements that are inevitable,” said Carmen Chandler, campus spokeswoman.

Auxiliary formula favors CSU Northridge

CSUN is the top beneficiary because of its large student enrollment – 38,815 last fall – and because 54% of its students are eligible for government Pell Scholarships for low-income students. The university is also receiving additional funding as a federally designated Hispanic institution with a 51 percent Latino student body. As required by federal law, almost half of the aid is used as a grant for students in need to cover living and learning costs. The school can use some of the remainder to offset massive lost revenue related to the pandemic – at least $ 40 million this year – and to cover the reimbursements it had to pay students for unused housing and parking fees.

The aid also funded online teaching technology, improved ventilation in many campus buildings, improvements in health care facilities, and expanded psychological counseling for students. The university bought more than $ 1 million worth of plastic desk dividers, masks, disinfectants, and wall-hung digital thermometers – all to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Without the federal money, the campus would have suffered “devastating” cuts, said Colin Donahue, vice president of administration and finance at CSU Northridge and chief financial officer.

“I don’t know how we would have survived this storm,” he said, noting that no one had expected the pandemic shutdown to have lasted three semesters. “Without these funds, we would certainly not be able to provide adequate supervision for our students.”

Cash payments to students

Students say they appreciate the help. Some of the neediest are expected to receive $ 2,600 from the first two federal funding rounds, with more coming from the third round approved by the US bailout plan signed in March. Payments were made automatically based on previous income information and did not require new claims.

“I think many of our students definitely needed that in the coronavirus pandemic and benefited from it. It made a difference, ”said Deion Turner, who has just retired as this year’s vice president of the student body.

Many students lost their jobs during the health emergency and had problems with spending on room and board. The extra help was “really a great thing,” he added.

Turner, a Los Angeles resident who graduated in May, received $ 600 in COVID-19 aid to cover books for his final tenure and car payments.

In the first two rounds, totaling approximately $ 127 million, according to an accounting provided by the campus, $ 53.2 million went in student scholarships.

An additional $ 31 million paid students reimbursements for housing, meals, and park programs, and made up for various loss of income, including a drop in tuition fees that was exacerbated by lower international student enrollment during the pandemic. That federal money even helped the university avoid possible defaults on building loans for dormitories and garages, officials said.

Approximately $ 14.7 million was earmarked for improved online teaching and distance communication technologies, such as better Wi-Fi connections, computers, and educational software for faculty, staff, and students.

The sudden move to remote learning and working “would have been in dire straits without this new equipment,” said Edith Winterhalter, deputy vice president for budget and strategic business operations.

The campus decides how to use its most recent funds and has approximately one year after receiving the last portion to spend the funds. The money does not arrive from Washington in the form of a lump sum, but universities must submit paperwork to clear their allotment amounts. After distributing approximately $ 65 million of funding to students, the campus will have approximately $ 73.5 million available, representing 15% of its operating budget of $ 491 million over the 2020-21 period.

On a recent campus tour, most expenses were not visible, such as support for counseling and home technology for teaching. However, there have been significant upgrades to improve ventilation in 31 campus buildings. And many classrooms are being fitted with portable air filter units the size of window air conditioners that stand on the floor.

Larry Gordon is a writer for EdSource, a non-profit, non-partisan journalism organization covering education in California. EdSource data journalist Daniel J. Willis contributed to this story.