Emergency pandemic funds kept schools afloat, new report says

The final round of HEERF funding stabilized institutions of higher education, supporting students' needs and mitigating operational downturns.

Joe Biden’s tenure in office has proven his administration does not take the pandemic lightly for higher education: His $40 billion bandage has helped over 18 million students receive emergency aid since 2021, according to the Department of Education’s latest performance report on HEERF.

The aid is largely fueled by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), which has pumped $76 billion in total aid to institutions of higher education since 2020. In 2021, the American Rescue Plan authorized its latest amount at a record $39.6 billion.

As a result, nearly half of all students enrolled at HEERF-eligible institutions received emergency funding and 80% of Pell Grant recipients received aid, averaging $2,000 apiece. In 2021 alone, institutions distributed $19.5 billion of emergency funding to 12.7 million students. It is no coincidence that students reported higher morale with emergency funding, allowing them to focus on their grades during a particularly turbulent time.

Community college students and HBCUs were significantly assisted by the funding. Almost every other community college student received a grant, amassing a total of 3.5 million students, each receiving an average of $1,290 each. As for HBCUs, nearly 80% of their students received a grant, averaging $2,411 each. More than 90% of these colleges kept certain students enrolled due to financial aid.

“Today’s data shows the powerful impact that need-based grant aid—even a small amount—can have for students on the brink of a financial emergency,” said Justin Draeger, CEO and president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “What’s more, the aid was largely directed to the students who needed it most: those from low-income families and those attending under-resourced institutions.”

“As I travel the country, I’ve been heartened to hear from students on how the American Rescue Plan helped them stay enrolled and from colleges and universities who said American Rescue Plan funds have helped raise the bar for how they support students, from forgiving debts to addressing food and housing insecurity to expanding mental health supports, and so much more.”

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Emergency funding also broke the fall for faculty and staff. More than 2 in 3 colleges reported that it helped keep their employees working at full salary levels, stabilizing staffing declines.

California received the most amount of HEERF in 2021 at $2.6 billion, which was nearly $1 billion more than the state that got the second largest amount, Texas. Only Florida and New York topped $1 billion in total funding. Students in Washington received the highest average of $2,350 in federal aid per head, followed by Puerto Rico at $2,050.

Higher education institutions must submit a report on their HEERF spending data to the Department of Education on a quarterly and yearly basis. The Department used the reports of over 4,500 higher education institutions and 2022 spending data to estimate the impact of HEERF funding. Most recent records suggest these institutions have used 90% of all allocated HEERF funds.

“I think it is really important for all of us to celebrate the impact that those resources had,” said James Kvall, Department of Education Under Secretary, according to a NASFAA statement. “The next time, as seems inevitable, that colleges and universities encounter challenges, we want Congress to have higher education on the shortlist for future economic recovery packages.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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