Biden Administration Details How HEERF Aid Assisted an Estimated 18 Million Students

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Managing Editor

The White House on Wednesday unveiled a new fact sheet and report detailing how the administration’s pandemic relief has provided an estimated 18 million students with direct financial aid since the start of 2021.

The administration’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act was signed into law in March 2021 and provided an additional $40 billion to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), which was first established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Department of Education (ED) extended the performance period for the funds to June 30, 2023 in an April 4, 2022 Federal Register notice.

According to this latest data from the White House, of those 18 million students more than 450,000 attended historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), more than 24,000 attended tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), and nearly 8 million attended a minority-serving institutions (MSIs), such as Hispanic-serving institutions.

“For millions of students … The American Rescue Plan and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund are what made it possible to stay enrolled during the pandemic,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said. “The report released today offers the clearest picture yet of how colleges and universities used HEERF dollars to get help to students most in need.”

Institutions across the country that received HEERF funds distributed $19.5 billion in emergency aid grants to 12.7 million students in 2021, including 80% of Pell Grant recipients, the administration said. The White House estimates that by the end of 2022, that number reached 18 million.

“Today’s data shows the powerful impact that need-based grant aid — even a small amount — can have for students on the brink of a financial emergency. What’s more, the aid was largely directed to the students who needed it most: those from low-income families and those attending under-resourced institutions,” said NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger. “The results of today’s report are a testament to the hard work of financial aid offices across the country, who spent countless hours navigating complex regulations and guidance — at a time when many are facing severe staffing shortages — to ensure money got into the hands of students.”

In touting the impacts of the funds, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden — who has worked as a professor at Northern Virginia Community College since 2009 — detailed how emergency aid has enabled her students to combat new financial pressures that hamper a student’s ability to continue their education.

“When child care plans fall apart, when students have to choose between paying an electric bill or buying new books, when rents rise and they have to move away, those are the moments that decide whether or not a student will make it to graduation day,” she said.

According to the new report, 94% of community colleges said that the emergency aid helped keep students enrolled in their programs, with 6 million community college students receiving direct financial aid.

“That number represents students just like mine who are juggling multiple jobs, taking care of kids and parents, and asking for nothing more than the chance to work hard and build a better life for their families,” Dr. Biden said. “Thanks to this law, they were able to stay in school.”

Cardona said the reported usage of the emergency aid has enabled students to address housing and food insecurity and provide support to students.

“It is important that when we talk about numbers that big that we put faces to the policies so we see who benefited from it,” Cardona said after highlighting a number of challenges that students have faced, such as internet access, housing, and child care.

The department also included a state-by-state breakdown of the emergency funding usage to further detail the impact the aid has had throughout the country.

ED Under Secretary James Kvaal said that although the higher education sector has been devastated by economic downturns for decades, institutions were able to get their students through the difficult financial times brought on by the pandemic due to the federal emergency funding.

“I think it is really important for all of us to celebrate the impact that those resources had … because the next time, as seems inevitable, that colleges and universities encounter challenges we want Congress to have higher education on the short list for future economic recovery packages,” Kvaal said. “These things get put together in a manner of weeks and we need people to remember this precedent and understand the value that these resources had.”


Publication Date: 2/2/2023

Paula C | 2/2/2023 10:45:31 AM

There's a typo in the total dollar amount. It should be $19.5 billion instead of $19.5 million.

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