Cerritos College disburses $12 million in aid to students and faculty

Dr.+Jose+Fierro+discusses+the+college%27s+next+steps+in+utilizing+funding+from+the+CARES+Act+in+a+faculty+senate+meeting+on+April+28%2C+2020.+

Daniel Suarez

Dr. Jose Fierro discusses the college's next steps in utilizing funding from the CARES Act in a faculty senate meeting on April 28, 2020.

Daniel Suarez Jr., Staff Writer

In a Faculty Senate meeting over Zoom, the President and Superintendent of Cerritos College, Dr. Jose Fierro, shared the college’s plan to allocate over $12 million in federal aid to students in need.

The funds are provided as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a law signed on March 27 that distributed roughly $14 billion to colleges and universities using a formula based on student enrollment.

The Faculty Senate discussed the various methods that the college will use to disperse the funds, starting with an immediate distribution of emergency aid checks.

To limit the spread of COVID-19, Cerritos College suspended all campus activities on March 13, transitioning to an online-only learning format as of March 30.

Students have since then been receiving instruction via video-conference program Zoom and Canvas as colleges and institutions across the nation remain closed indefinitely.

“The main obligation of the CARES Act is to keep students engaged and allocate dollars directly to them,” Dr. Fierro said.

According to Senate VP of Student Services Dr. Dilcie Perez, the initial disbursement will come in the form of an undisclosed amount with a maximum of $5000 to all students who qualify.

The senate plans to determine specific dollar amounts while providing “case-by-case” support.

Perez explained the “Spring 2020 distribution will happen in a week or so. Our goal is to support as many students as possible. So we plan on using almost $3.5 million to distribute to almost 9,000 students. This represents about 56% of the funding.”

Administrators decided that the remaining 33% (about $2.2 million) of funds from the CARES Act will go towards another distribution in the Fall semester.

Dean of Student Services Dr. Elizabeth Miller, who joined Cerritos College in 2017, will oversee the emergency aid application process.

The CARES Act does contain some limitations due in part to the efforts of the current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who enforced criterion that effectively blocks undocumented and international students from receiving any of the funds.

Dr. Fierro also pointed out that only students that are already eligible for Federal Financial aid or FAFSA can receive the assistance.

By using FAFSA qualification guidelines, the CARES Act is estimated to exclude nearly 1.5 million students from receiving emergency assistance.

“The main problem that we have seen is particularly to undocumented students who seem to have a higher need at this time,” Fierro said. “But this administration has made a point of leaving immigrants out of any type of stimulus dollars from the CARES act.”

The Senate raised additional concerns regarding the “vague” phrasing of certain guidelines in an April 21 letter from the Department of Education.

It instructs college and university presidents to use the funds provided only “to cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the Coronavirus.”

This means that employees that do not teach will not be able to receive monetary aid either.

Dr. Fierro argued that this “interpretation is extremely narrow. The changes to the delivery of instruction involves all faculty and all staff. They make it possible.”

The college is reaching out to the District Chancellor Eloy Oakley and federal partners for further clarification.

In the weeks following Governor Gavin Newsom’s Stay At Home order, Cerritos College has made efforts to provide additional resources to students such as purchasing and distributing laptops and encouraging students to apply for emergency aid grants if they have experienced a loss of income due to COVID-19.

“The emergency aid provided to students is made possible through a myriad of resources such as the Cerritos College Foundation funds and Student Equity funds.” Dr. Perez explained, who reported the progress of the emergency aid distribution on April 9.

President Fierro commended the Faculty Senate for their continued efforts through this crisis.

“We are doing well, and I think this is one of the finest moments of Cerritos College,” he said. “The way that everyone has come together to support each other and their communities has been exemplary.”