Why BYU will not take federal funding to help during the coronavirus pandemic

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Abraham Smoot Building, Aug. 8, 2019, on the campus of Brigham Young University.

Brigham Young University was allotted the most federal funding of any Utah college to provide relief during the pandemic — but the school won’t be taking any of it.

Instead, the private university announced Monday, it will use its own funds to offer support to students. And it will ask the U.S. Department of Education to reallocate the $32.3 million it had set aside for BYU to others.

“BYU, like every private and public institution of higher education, has experienced and will continue to experience significant financial loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said school spokeswoman Carri Jenkins in a statement. “Our students have also been affected. However, we believe we can assist our students without the CARES Act funds.”

The Provo school, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the move aligns with the faith’s teachings.

The church has long taught its members to be self-reliant. If they are not able, they are asked to turn first to family and second to the Latter-day Saint community for help.

“In that spirit,” Jenkins noted, “we have identified university funds that can be used to provide assistance to matriculated students enrolled during winter semester 2020 who need external help to meet the basic needs deprived them by the COVID-19 outbreak.”

The university declined to say how much money it has set aside for its student support fund. But Jenkins said it will help provide food and housing for students, as well as some scholarships.

In a message on BYU’s website, the school says it appreciates the support of Congress but that it didn’t apply for the funds and doesn’t need the money.

Jenkins added: “We also are seeing the financial strain this pandemic has put on other institutions, some of which may not be able to open their doors to students again without government relief.”

Under the CARES Act, at least half of the money given to each school must go directly to aiding students — many of whom have lost their campus jobs and have had to shift quickly to online classes.

There were few other caveats on how the money had to be spent.

The next highest amount given to a Utah school was $22.9 million at Utah Valley University, which has about twice as many students as BYU. The totals, though, are based on how many students at an institution are typically eligible for federal Pell grants to help pay for school.

Those are calculated by need and awarded to students each year in lower-income households. BYU was allotted the most funding because it has a lot of married students who get the grants because they don’t have to report their parents’ income.

The University of Utah, for instance, has far fewer married students and received $18.7 million in coronavirus relief funding, though it has roughly the same student population as BYU.

Overall, Utah colleges — now excluding BYU — will collect about $100 million total in coronavirus relief.