OIG Report Highlights Institutional Compliance and Usage of HEERF

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

The Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued new findings into how institutions of higher education are utilizing funds provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, finding a number of institutions still need to post quarterly reports to their institutions’ web sites or risk having their grants terminated.

The announcement comes via a report unveiled last week, which randomly sampled 100 institutions to review their compliance with the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) quarterly reporting requirements.

As a part of the CARES Act, HEERF provided more than $14 billion in emergency funding to higher education. Institutions were then required to report the use of funds distributed from HEERF, with the first report being due Oct. 30, 2020. That report was meant to cover an institution's use of funding from its first award through Sept. 20, 2020. Subsequent reports are due quarterly and must be posted no later than 10 days after the calendar quarter.

This OIG report focuses on the first quarterly report, covering the period from the date of the first HEERF grant award through Sept. 30, 2020.

The 100 institutions sampled consisted of the 20 institutions that received the highest amount of funding under the Institutional Portion of HEERF and a random sample of 80 institutions, consisting of 20 recipients randomly selected from each of four categories: state-controlled institutions of higher education, private institutions of higher education, for-profit organizations, and other (all other institution types, as defined by the Federal Assistance Award Data System, that received Institutional Portion funds).

Overall, OIG could not find quarterly reports on the websites of 19 of the 100 selected schools.

For institutions not in compliance, ED plans to send several follow-up communications, followed by a formal letter with a date by which a recipient must comply or face being placed in high-risk status or have its HEERF grant terminated.

According to the posted quarterly reports, as of Sept. 30, 2020, the 81 reporting institutions spent over $283 million (45%) of the total Institutional Portion funds obligated to them under HEERF.

The goal of the report was to determine whether selected institutions receiving funds under the Institutional Portion of HEERF met public reporting requirements, as well as highlight the reported usage of the institutional funds.

The report also found that the top three expenditure categories for HEERF were campus safety, distance learning equipment, and tuition reimbursement, with the majority of funds (56%) being spent on tuition reimbursement.

The least frequently reported expenditures were for subsidized off-campus housing and subsidized food service, and the smallest amounts of funding were spent on additional class sections, internet, staff training, and subsidized food service.

Of the schools that reported “other uses” of their HEERF allocations, 22% either did not follow ED’s instructions or did not provide sufficient detail.

In response to the report, ED has created a unit specifically dedicated to administering and monitoring HEERF grants, which is currently being staffed.

 

Publication Date: 3/3/2021


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