/Mississippi universities got millions in pandemic relief It’s hard to know how they spent it

Mississippi universities got millions in pandemic relief It’s hard to know how they spent it

Mississippi News Nonprofit Mississippi Eight public universities received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to maintain their doors during the COVID-19 epidemic. It’s difficult to see what universities did with the money nearly two years later, despite the reporting requirements of the U.S. Department of Education agency that oversees the funds. According to Mississippi Today, there are several factors that contribute to this patchwork transparency. These dollars were meant to aid colleges and students in the face of financial hardships due to the pandemic. Melear is a professor of finance in higher education at the University of Mississippi. He said that these monies were crucial for Mississippi’s higher education institutions, particularly now as we face the many challenges posed by the pandemic. This inequitable accounting is not unique to Mississippi. ProPublica examined last year how limited tracking by the federal government has hindered efforts of K-12 officials across America to track how COVID funds were spent in their respective districts. Mississippi Today did not receive a response from the U.S. Department of Education to our request for comment. The money is from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (or HEERF), which is a designated pool of dollars within each of three federal pandemic stimulus programs. Mississippi’s eight public universities were awarded $508 million. The universities were required by law to pay at least half the amount directly to students. The remainder of the funds, which amount to approximately $250 million, could be used for “institutional costs” according to COVID-19. This broad category includes spending on personal protective gear, dorm closings or technology for virtual education. The Office of Postsecondary Education is a U.S. Department of Education agency that requires universities and colleges to publish quarterly spreadsheet reports to show how they have spent their institutional funds. This provides an overview of how universities have spent their institutional funds. These spreadsheets provide 16 categories that universities can use to categorize their spending. For example, “providing or subscribing the cost of high-speed internet to students or faculty to move to an online environment,” Caron Blanton, director of communications at the Institutions of Higher Learning, said. “As there were new funding programs, it was often difficult to distribute the funds quickly and in compliance with federal guidelines. Many universities neglected to provide more detail on how they spent the money in specific categories. The form asks universities to give additional information for one category, “other uses”. According to a Mississippi Today analysis, $3.3 million was not provided by universities out of the $7.6million allocated for “other uses”. The University of Southern Mississippi spent $6.08 million in December 2021 on “replacing loss revenue” from non-tuition source. This category could include anything, from lost parking revenue to spending on a cancelled theatrical performance. The USM does not specify what it spent the $6 million on in its report. Even though universities provide detailed information about their spending, it can be difficult to see the whole picture. Mississippi State University reported that it spent $3.8 million on lost revenue in a September 2021 report. MSU stated that it had lost $3.8 million in revenue. Mississippi Today needed to request quarterly reports from the following universities: Alcorn State University (Jackson State University), Mississippi University for Women (Mississippi University for Women), University of Southern Mississippi (University of Southern Mississippi) and University of Southern Mississippi. Mississippi Today still has two reports from Alcorn State and Jackson State as of the publication date. Robert Kelchen, a University of Tennessee professor of higher education finance, stated that these reporting requirements are not strict because the federal government was trying to help students remain in college and keep colleges open. He said that people were concerned about colleges closing down or laying off workers. “The main priority was not necessarily great oversight — it was just to get the money out of the door and have enough oversight to ensure colleges aren’t ripping taxpayers off.” Kelchen also pointed out that it is difficult to calculate the amount of HEERF funds spent on Mississippi universities. The U.S. Department of Education maintains the “transparency portal” database of all education funds that were allocated under the three pandemic relief legislations. The database’s purpose is to “provide the public with transparent and searchable data.” As of November 30, 2021, Mississippi universities had spent approximately $129 million in federal stimulus funds for institutional expenses. However, the quarterly reports show a very different picture. Mississippi Today compared the expenditures reported by all eight universities in their spreadsheets. Mississippi Today’s analysis shows that the universities spent $198m in institutional funds between Dec. 31, 2021 and December 31, 2021. This is a gap of $70 million. These numbers are not comparable for individual universities. The school’s quarterly reports, which are available on the Mississippi University for Women website, show that it spent approximately $2.3 million in institutional funding as of September 30, 2021. According to the U.S. Department of Education, MUW had spent approximately $1.2 million in institutional funds as of November 31, 2021. Tyler Wheat, MUW’s communications director, said that quarterly reports are submitted by the department. The reason for the differences in numbers is primarily due timing. He stated that the quarterly reports posted on the website were correct. The U.S. Department of Education database only shows reimbursement amounts, which are not required until expenses have been incurred.