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A report highlighting how colleges and universities used Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) allocations to support students and campus operations was released by the Department of Education on February 1.

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund: 2021 Annual Performance Report examines how institutions spent $39 billion of HEERF funding during 2021. This represents approximately 53 percent of the $76 billion of funding provided through three major pieces of legislation: the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSAA) Act, and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act.

HEERF funds were used for a variety of purposes, including direct emergency grants to students, campus responses to the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g., replacing lost residential revenue, funding new health and safety measures, pivoting to online instruction, etc.), and discharging unpaid student account balances.

HEERF Helped Students

  • During 2021, 12.7 million students received emergency grants totaling $19.5 billion; this includes $4.5 billion provided to 3.5 million community college students. Almost half of students enrolled at HEERF recipient institutions received emergency grants. Additionally, approximately $1.7 billion in emergency student grants were funded by the institutional portion of HEERF.
  • 80 percent of Pell Grant recipients received one or more emergency grants. Pell recipients and students at under-resourced institutions were more likely to receive aid, and typically received higher amounts.
  •  In total, $3.3 billion of HEERF funds were applied to student accounts. HEERF funds were used to reengage students or keep students enrolled with over 1,400 institutions using HEERF to discharge nearly $1.5 billion of unpaid student balances. Additionally, students opted to apply $1.8 billion of emergency grants to their account balances.

HEERF Supported Institutions

  • Of the $21.5 billion in HEERF institutional funding spent in 2021, nearly $13 billion was used to recover lost revenue.
  • Twelve percent of institutional funds went to campus safety. Another 8 percent was used for technology, such as providing Wi-Fi and/or hotspots to students lacking broadband internet access at home.
  • Targeted supplemental funding for Minority-Serving Institutions and under-resourced institutions also supported academic and student engagement goals.

As of late 2022, institutions had spent nearly 90 percent of their HEERF allocations.


Chris Leach

Accounting Policy Analyst


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