NASFAA Survey Examines How Students, Institutions Used Emergency Pandemic Funds

Contact: Allie Arcese
Director of Communications
(202) 785-6954
[email protected]

WASHINGTON, D.C, October 5, 2022 — The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) — along with NASPA and HCM Strategists — today released the results of a comprehensive survey examining how students and institutions used federal emergency stimulus funding amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and how lessons learned from this funding can strengthen and inform state policy, institutional aid programs, and future federal emergency aid programs.

Through three pieces of legislation passed between March 2020 and March 2021, Congress doled out $77 billion in grants to colleges and universities to provide financial assistance to postsecondary institutions and students during a time of worldwide crisis via the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). 

Of the more than 18,000 students who responded to the survey, more than half indicated they received emergency financial assistance from their school during the pandemic, with a total average grant amount of $1,000-$2,000. 

The survey also revealed the following about student experiences with HEERF grants: 

  • Most recipients used HEERF funds for food (61%), books (57%), and housing (50%). Students also used their grants for transportation, upcoming tuition, technology devices, internet service, or utilities.

  • More than half of recipients “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that the aid they received allowed them to experience less stress and better focus on their studies (89%), was received quickly enough to help them when they needed it (81%), was an amount adequate enough to meet their needs (61%), allowed them to stay enrolled in college (58%), and allowed them to get better grades than they would have without the funding (53%).

  • Forty-one percent felt they borrowed less in student loans than they would have if they had not received emergency aid, and the same percentage felt the emergency aid allowed them to reduce the number of hours they worked.

  • Those who didn’t apply for emergency aid indicated they were unaware the emergency assistance was available (51%), thought they wouldn’t qualify (47%), or didn’t know the process for receiving emergency assistance (34%).

NASFAA also surveyed financial aid administrators across the country to learn more about their experiences with the three rounds of HEERF funding. Results from the 321 institutional respondents revealed the following: 

  • The third round of HEERF funding required institutions to spend a portion of their grant dollars on outreach related to financial aid appeals — known as professional judgment (PJ) requests. As a result, institutions saw a notable increase in PJ inquiries (41%). They also saw a 37% increase in PJ requests, and a 34% increase in emergency aid requests.

  • Institutions used a number of criteria to determine eligibility for HEERF student emergency grants, including expected family contribution (69%) and federal Pell Grant recipient status (66%). They also frequently used one of the following criteria: food needs, housing needs, need for course materials, need for technology, health care needs, dependent care needs, transportation needs, and enrollment intensity.

  • Just over half of respondents (51%) used a portion of their HEERF institutional share dollars to award student emergency grants, with another 7% indicating they had plans to use institutional funds to award emergency grants or were not yet decided.

The wide-ranging survey also delved into institutions’ perceptions of how lawmakers adjusted each round of HEERF funding and the Department of Education’s management of the HEERF program, as well as recommendations to improve state and institutional emergency aid programs.

To set up an interview, please email NASFAA Director of Communications Allie Arcese or call (202) 785-6954.


The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents more than 32,000 financial aid professionals at approximately 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every 10 undergraduates in the U.S. Based in Washington, DC, NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aid legislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators.

Publication Date: 10/5/2022

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