Evaluating Student and Institutional Experiences With HEERF

Evaluating Student and Institutional Experiences with HEERFIn 2021, NASFAA, NASPA, and MDRC released a report examining experiences with the CARES Act through surveys of college and university administrators and administrator and student focus groups. NASFAA, NASFAA's Evaluating Stimulus Emergency Grants Working Group, NASPA, and HCM Strategists followed up on this report in early 2022 through two electronic surveys designed to evaluate student and institutional experiences with the three rounds of HEERF. In addition to general experiences, we were particularly interested in differences in the experiences among students and practitioners at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) relative to non-MSIs.

For this report, NASFAA, NASPA, and HCM Strategists conducted a multi-part analysis on financial aid practitioners' and students' survey responses, and HCM Strategists also conducted an analysis of four state emergency aid programs. Combining insights gained from these surveys with an extensive review of four state emergency aid programs, HCM Strategists formulated a set of policy recommendations for strengthening the roles of states in supporting students who face financial crises, NASPA developed recommendations for institutional emergency aid programs, and NASFAA developed considerations for key issues Congress should focus on if it creates a federal emergency aid program in the future.

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Update from January 2024 - The Impacts of COVID-19 Relief Funding on Higher Education.

Recommendations and considerations included:

Recommendations for Institutional Emergency Aid Programs1

  1. Prioritize awareness of evolving student needs.
  2. Leverage campus and community resources to increase support for basic needs.
  3. Foster communities of practice to share experiences, recommendations, and promising practices.
  4. Improve communication to students about the availability of funds, means of requesting funds, eligibility criteria, and reasons for full or partial denial when applicable.
  5. Follow up with students about their needs and their experiences with the emergency aid process.

Considerations for Federal Emergency Aid Programs2

  1. The decision of where a federal emergency aid program is authorized – within or outside of the confines of the HEA Title IV programs – has significant implications for both institutions and students.
  2. Congress can use lessons learned from known flaws in the Title IV campus- based allocation formula and HEERF emergency grant allocation formulas to ensure institutions serving students with the greatest needs have adequate resources to meet those needs.
  3. Keeping allowable uses of emergency aid funds broad gives institutions the ability to help more students.
  4. Making congressional intent clear is essential to ensuring emergency aid funds go to the students who most need assistance.
  5. Allowing for maximum discretion in awarding emergency grants reflects that institutions best understand their students' needs and have the best ability to respond to them.
  6. Exempting emergency aid from treatment as estimated financial aid acknowledges that emergencies do not fit neatly into financial aid formulas.
  7. Publicizing the availability of professional judgment and emergency aid appears to work, but institutions must have funding to accommodate those needs as well.

Recommendations for Improvements to State Policy to Support Students With Emergencies3

  1. Establish emergency aid programs to address unanticipated needs.
  2. Create holistic support programs addressing basic needs for students.
  3. Reform need-based aid programs to be more flexible and reach more students. 
  4. Provide technical assistance to institutions.
  5. Elevate the urgent needs of postsecondary students.

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1. The institutional emergency aid policy/program recommendations contained within are those of NASPA and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NASFAA, or HCM Strategists. 
2. The federal emergency aid policy considerations contained within are those of NASFAA and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NASPA, or HCM Strategists.
3. The state policy recommendations contained within are those of HCM Strategists and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NASFAA, or NASPA. 

Publication Date: 1/26/2024

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