Written by Pat Bradley for Northeast Public Radio on August 4, 2020

Campus leaders have been working for months to plan the fall semester in the midst of a global pandemic. Northern New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik has been holding conference calls with various sectors of the economy to discuss COVID-19. On Monday she met virtually with higher education officials from across the district.

New York’s 21st Congressional district has a number of colleges and universities ranging from private colleges to state university and community colleges.
Republican Elise Stefanik brought state representatives and college administrators together to discuss challenges the higher education facilities face. She gave a brief overview of current Congressional legislation. “The CARES Act, the previous COVID package provided $12.5 billion to higher ed institutions. And $26 million of that funding went directly to colleges and universities in my district. But I know that that’s not enough. Right now both proposals, the Republican and Democrat proposal, provides significant funding for higher education. The HEALS Act, which is the Senate Republican proposal provides an additional $29 billion for that higher education emergency relief fund and I anticipate we will see support that’s very robust for higher education.”

Republican State Senator Daphne Jordan says she’s heard a number of concerns from constituents in the 43rd District about students returning to campuses. “There’s confusion because plans in the schools are not yet finalized and the time is close to when everyone’s going back to school if they go back. There’s dissatisfaction with online instruction. There’s also confusion and uncertainty as to what increased testing among faculty and students will mean. In testing I mean as far as COVID-19 testing.”

Jordan added that she’s also heard concerns from college administrators about funding needed to provide classes and services during the pandemic. SUNY Potsdam President Dr. Kristin Esterberg says their students must self-quarantine before they come to campus and will be tested regularly. “We were cut 15% of our base state allocation last fiscal year and we’re looking forward to about 20% cuts in our state allocation this fiscal year. That’s close to $4 million in a very short period of time for my campus. And clearly those are funds that we very desperately need in order to ensure the modification of our classrooms, the provision of PPE, the cost of testing and so forth. I’m very, very grateful for CARES Act funding but more institutional funding is clearly needed.”

SUNY Plattsburgh President Dr. Alexander Enyedi says campuses are making significant and costly modifications to assure health and safety. “We’re investing in a high degree of resources. We’re increasing our testing supply capacity. We’re making a tremendous amount of infrastructure modifications on campus. We’re updating our health center for surveillance and testing. We’re acquiring a lot of PPE. But we’re also modifying a lot of classrooms just to be what we call COVID capacity. So we’ve really downgraded the number of individuals that can be in specific classrooms.”

Clarkson University President Tony Collins says CARES Act funding was appreciated but did not completely cover ongoing and future expenses such as continued student testing and on-campus modifications. “We need a little help. We’re going to be testing the wastewater streams from each of the dormitory facilities and other facilities and we’ll be able to see if there is an outbreak by monitoring the wastewater. That’s pretty novel. And bottom line all of this is costing us more than normal and so we greatly appreciate the potential help in the next COVID bill.”

Congresswoman Stefanik says as the Republican HEALS and Democratic HEROES Acts are negotiated she will advocate for additional higher education funding to cover COVID-19 expenses.

You can read the full article at https://www.wamc.org/