Dept. of Education unveils college COVID-19 Handbook

The guide addresses safety, response and recovery strategies as well as best practices in funding and delivering assistance to underserved populations.
By: | June 7, 2021
Colleges and universities can the latest COVID stimulus funds to to cover unpaid student loan balances.

Colleges and universities looking to further explore reopening strategies for the summer and fall have a new resource to turn to.

The U.S. Department of Education has launched the COVID-19 Handbook Volume 3, which offers guidance for operating safely, effectively and equitably during the pandemic while keeping students, faculty and staff front of mind.

“Many of our nation’s postsecondary students have experienced the toughest year in their educational careers,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “We must deploy every resource to bear to make sure all higher education students can reengage with their school communities, continue their education, and graduate ready to pursue their dreams. With the American Rescue Plan and key resources like Volume 3 of the COVID-19 Handbook, institutions of higher education will be able to not only protect the safety of students, educators, and staff, but also support those students who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”

The first two volumes offered similar strategies and ideas for K-12 schools to help lessen the impacts of COVID-19 – both in terms of preventing spread and limiting the social and emotional strain it had on students, teachers and the communities they serve.

Volume 3, created through partnerships with public health experts and those connected to the Biden Administration, provides a framework that institutions can use in following Centers for Disease Control advice for tamping down circulation of SARS-CoV2 and its variants. It also gives colleges and universities specific recommendations on utilizing American Rescue Plan funds in vaccination efforts while ensuring equity across campuses. Some $76 billion has been made available through the Plan, the CARES Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

What’s in the book?

For its Volume 3 handbook, the Department said it leaned on guidance from institutions, 40 higher education-based organizations, families and students in addressing the “some of the most pressing questions” during the pandemic. Within it are four primary areas that cover both response and recovery. They include:

  • Strategies that assist colleges and universities in delivering and showcasing vaccine efforts; dealing with populations that are not yet vaccinated; and actionable steps in utilizing Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEERF) funds to assist in pandemic-related initiatives.
  • Citing examples of how other institutions have responded to COVID-19 setbacks – from addressing “remote learning and broadband access to financial assistance housing and childcare.”
  • Showing how institutions can be difference-makers in surrounding communities and showcasing best practices, both in terms of offering support and also in vaccine strategies.
  • Cataloging the resources available to colleges and universities as well as how they can pivot to meet the needs of students, staff and faculty.

The handbook importantly doesn’t just focus on traditional students or recent high school grads but also addresses those who might be working jobs, are older and looking to reskill, have families or are international students. It specifically addresses categories such as student caregivers, fulfilling basic needs and mental health of students and staff.

Volume 3 piggybacks on guidance previously launched by the Department called “Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse,” which specifically addresses underserved students and how to assist through American Rescue Plan funding.