More Than Half Of Public Colleges in Mass. Used COVID Relief Funds To Cover Unpaid Student Bills

As students prepare to return to campus, colleges in New England and across the country are figuring out how to spend a windfall of $69 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds. More than half the public colleges in Massachusetts are using part of that money to cover millions in unpaid balances that students owe them.

A GBH News survey finds at least 17 of the state’s 29 public colleges have collectively wiped off their books nearly $20 million in student debt. Those schools include Massasoit Community College, Bunker Hill Community College, Worcester State and UMass Dartmouth. As of spring 2021, students at the 17 schools held a total of more than $130 million in institutional debt.

An unknown number of private schools in the state are doing the same thing, but it’s unclear how much they’re spending. The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts says it’s not tracking how individual institutions are using their relief funds, but in an email, Brad Freeman, its vice president for government affairs, said “providing financial assistance for unpaid tuition and other balances is just one of the many avenues that colleges… are utilizing to provide financial relief to their students.”

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