The Department of Education has announced the availability of a new pot of Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) aid, stemming from the American Rescue Plan Act. Institutional eligibility for the aid will be based on an application process but will prioritize support for institutions with the greatest unmet needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Priority also will be given to colleges and universities that serve a high percentage of low-income students, as well as those that have experienced enrollment declines since the start of the pandemic.
Instructions on how to apply for funding can be found here. The funds will be awarded in late spring to institutions with successful applications.
In addition to announcing the new funding opportunity, ED also released a new FAQ regarding the HEERF institutional aid previously made available to all institutions. The document expands the allowable uses for this aid and permits funds to be more broadly spent on “students’ basic needs, such as student, academic, financial, and mental health support.”
ED specifies that the examples given in the FAQ are not meant to be exhaustive of all permissible uses; rather they’re meant to provide “the wide range of strategies institutions of higher education (IHEs) can employ to meet the basic needs of students.” Some examples of potential allowable new uses include expanding on-campus childcare facilities, strengthening campus food insecurity support programs, subsidizing some types of students’ transportation and off-campus housing costs, and expanding academic success programs. Funds also can be used for additional mental health supports and to pay staff and contractors that help connect students with other local resources and to build out long-term capacity student support services.
ED also reminded schools via a new Dear Colleague Letter that they now can use Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data to communicate with students about other public benefits programs that they may be eligible for. ED encourages institutions to coordinate with campus stakeholders to ensure their communities are aware of these benefits.