MSU spends over $49 million from relief funds

Minnesota State University, Mankato received over $49 million from three state-issued Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) acts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than $22 million went to student aid while the remainder helped the university repair lost revenue of departments. 

The state of Minnesota received roughly $565 million in COVID reliev to allocate to 90 state colleges and universities. For MSU specifically, The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Acts were awarded and spent by MSU as of June, 30.

The CARES act allocated $4,544,481 to student aid and $4,544,481 to the institution totaling $9,088,962. The university, however, didn’t know when or if each act was the last one it would receive. 

“We didn’t know that any further income was coming after it. So we’ve got to make the decisions based on what is the money that we have available for us here,” Rick Straka, Vice President for Finance and Administration, said.

The second wave of income MSU received was the CRRSA act, which allocated $4,544,481 to student aid and $10,072,791 to the institutions, for a totaling of $14,617,272.

Following that came the ARPA act, which allocated $13,050,951 to student aid and $12,869,589 to the institution, totaling $25,920,540. 

Over the three acts, MSU received a total of $49,626,774.

Ultimately decided by the Cabinet, the number one priority in the waves of funding were domestic undergraduate students and aiding students affected by the pandemic. 

Many international students, however, expressed disappointment in the lack of funding set aside for them. Since they were not eligible for the aid set aside in the first two acts, many still experienced hardships.

The university recognized this need for these students and created a pool of funds out of the institutional university money to aid international students.

“We looked at things we could do institutionally, and through the generosity of some of our donors, they helped with this issue and supplement the federal money from the act,” Straka said.

According to the Kearney International Center, up to $140,000 in emergency funds was reportedly disbursed to international students attending the university in 2020, when the pandemic first struck the nation.

Cristobal Ugarte, a second-year international student, received funds from the school in 2020 through the emergency grant created. 

“That money was huge for me. When COVID hit, I was scared of what the next few months would look like. The grant I got helped me worry less about tuition and let me focus on school,” Ugarte said.

Over half of the recipients of these funds were senior-level students at the time, with nearly three out of four receiving roughly $1,000, according to the Kearney International Center.

Domestic undergraduate students affected were able to apply for relief as well.

Peyton Spehn, a recipient of one of these emergency grants in 2021, found himself with a bill that was “a couple thousand dollars,” something he couldn’t afford, coming from a low-income family and not being able to keep his job when the pandemic began.

Initially with only two options, to either pay his bill for the upcoming semester and be without his own mode of transportation or get his car repaired and sacrifice at least a semester of his schooling.

However, after discovering the university’s emergency grant opportunity, he quickly met with a grant advisor and was able to cover well over half of his car’s repairs, allowing him to stay in school and on track to graduate. 

“It was a weight off of my shoulders. I was really upset when I thought I’d have to take a semester off of school. I don’t know what my situation would have looked like if not for that grant,” Spehn said.

Students with unpaid balances in the 2020-21 year had those balances forgiven, costing the university roughly $1.4 million.

Other big ticket items include the over 100 MavPods placed around campus costing over $1 million, as well as efforts and technical equipment used to adapt to online learning via Zoom.

Reimbursing students in the dorms, and supplying funds in areas of lost revenue such as the Centennial Student Union and Athletics were also of concern. 

Social distancing efforts became mandatory while maintaining a lower capacity than normal in classrooms. 

One unique department that had a hard time adjusting to social distancing was the Department of Theatre and Dance.

Corrie Eggimann, director of public relations for theater at MSU, made it work.

“We had to cancel 10 productions in 2020, but by fall of 2020 we were presenting dance and theater performances with masked performers, technicians and audience members at 25% capacity,” Eggimann said.

Wearing clear masks on stage to allow the audience to see their faces, they created innovative ways for those who came to watch to still enjoy the show.

Limiting the number of patrons allowed to attend performances to comply with pandemic guidelines has impacted the attendance post 2022-21. 

“In the longer term, a challenge has been bringing audiences back to the theatre. It seems that folks have gotten out of the habit of coming to the theatre- specifically season ticket holders,” Eggimann said.

Currently the theater department is still suffering from decreased audience sizes. Many of their regular patrons are part of older communities who are in more vulnerable health conditions. 

Not only are the number of attendees still down, numbers of those enrolling at MSU have also not been what they were prior to 2020.

“We did have the fall of 2021. We were down about 200 new freshmen and transfers,” Straka said. “We are generally in the 2,300 range, or right around there. We have really positive numbers of admission applications for next year. So I’m very hopeful.”

Besides enrollment, topics on the table this year regarding budget season is the likelihood of plans for new buildings on campus.

As for current projects the tunnel/skyway from Highland to Trafton is estimated to be done in January 2023 when students return to campus.

In a year of possibility, MSU needs help from the state legislature to help aid the $350 million project to replace Armstrong Hall. Other plans discussed were the potential for a new football stadium to replace Blakeslee.

“Our primary focus needs to be on Minnesota State, which is Armstrong Hall. Those projects come first, then if there’s money left over to others who would support a football stadium, then yes, it would be great,” Straka said.

Write to Julia Lin at

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