Sean Hannity falsely claims that colleges don’t need pandemic relief. They are actually facing their “biggest financial losses” ever.

Enrollment is down, tuition is frozen, and pandemic costs are up

Sean Hannity has opened up a new front in the sustained Fox News campaign to pick apart President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. The approach has involved claiming components are wasteful by separating them from the wider context of the coronavirus’s impact on the economy.

Hannity’s latest claim is that $40 billion in aid to higher education should be cut from the bill, on the grounds that — as Hannity claims — colleges have still been collecting tuition just fine.

In fact, The Chronicle of Higher Education estimates the financial hit that universities, both public and private, have taken: “$85 billion in lost revenues, $24 billion for Covid-related expenses, and $74 billion in anticipated future decreases in state funding. That adds up to a whopping $183 billion.”

EducationNC also explained last year: “The vast majority of American colleges and universities — and let’s make sure we include community colleges in this conversation — are not Harvard. Not even close. According to a 2014 ACE report, slightly over half of four- and two-year non-profit colleges and universities even have an endowment, with a median endowment value of $7.9 million.”

Furthermore, as ABC News also explained last year, endowments do not actually function as a single account for general funds, but are a series of gifts that are each meant to function for specific purposes.

During a monologue on the February 25 edition of Hannity, the host cited a litany of allegedly wasteful programs that could be cut from Biden’s proposal, including this example: “You can also cut the $400 billion for colleges and universities that have been collecting tuition the entire time.”

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Citation From the February 25, 2021, edition of Fox News’ Hannity

Hannity also essentially repeated the same monologue for his radio show on February 26, again using the talking point about colleges: “You can cut the $40 billion for colleges and universities that actually remained open, collecting tuition the entire time. They don't deserve the bailout, either, if they were collecting tuition.”

Paul N. Friga, a clinical associate professor of strategy at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explained in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Our research suggests that we are experiencing the biggest financial losses our sector has ever faced. The institutions we tracked averaged an estimated 14-percent aggregate decline in revenues across fiscal years 2020 and 2021, and further losses loom as drops in enrollment, tuition freezes, and Covid-related expenses continue.”

Moreover, net tuition has gone down due to both lower enrollments and the efforts of many colleges to provide tuition discounts during the pandemic. Public and private universities have also mostly frozen or even cut tuition.

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Citation The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 5, 2021

Furthermore, the government has already been providing aid to higher education during the pandemic; it’s not some new idea that Democratic leaders suddenly pulled out of a hat. The CARES Act in March 2020 and the supplemental pandemic relief bill in December 2020 provided over $35 billion in total to higher education. However, universities said from the beginning that the expected federal aid would not be enough to cover their shortfalls.

A few other points worth mentioning, from Hannity’s monologues:

  • Hannity claimed that the proposed $350 billion in aid to state and local governments would be a “bailout” for “blue, high-tax states, blue states with massive budget deficits, states that tax their residents into oblivion, and which are allegedly “now looking for a handout” from red states. In fact, Forbes reported this month that Republican-run states are still dealing with serious revenue losses from the pandemic’s impact on the economy: “Of those states suffering at least a 3% drop in revenue since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, two-thirds (eight in 12) are red states.” Two of the most dire examples are Florida and Texas, with revenue declines of 9% or more compared to 2019.
  • In both instances, Hannity falsely stated that “$1.5 billion” was being put toward the Seaway International Bridge, which connects upstate New York with Canada. The actual number is $1.5 million — a 1,000-fold error on Hannity’s part — to shore up lost toll revenue. (The on-screen text during Hannity’s TV show had the correct $1.5 million figure.) Furthermore, the funding request for $1.5 million originated during the Trump administration under then-Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is also married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
  • Hannity also singled out nearly $500 million in aid to libraries and museums. This is another Fox News-driven scare campaign, singling out proposed aid that makes up only about 0.025% of the full relief package. And as with the aid to the bridge in New York, requests for more aid for museums also originated during the Trump administration under the former head of the National Endowment for the Arts, following up on previous aid under the CARES Act.