In a recent virtual press call, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it would award the final $198 million in Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) grants. The funds will assist students who attend 244 colleges and universities and provides resources to help these institutions recover from the impacts of the pandemic.
As part of the announcement, Secretary Miguel Cardona, First Lady Jill Biden, and American Rescue Plan Coordinator Gene Sperling joined leadership from Coahoma Community College, Community College of Philadelphia, and Southwestern Michigan College to highlight the positive impacts these grants have had on their students and institutions.
Secretary Cardona shared that the institutions that serve the nation's highest-need students were not only hit hard by the pandemic, giving context to the event and the importance of the funds awarded.
"This funding from the American Rescue Plan will help HBCUs, MSIs, community colleges, and other inclusive institutions better support their students, from investing in campus mental health, to providing financial relief, to meeting housing, transportation, and child care needs," said Cardona.
The most recent COVID assistance legislation, the American Rescue Plan (ARP), was signed by President Biden in March 2021. The measure provided almost $40 billion in relief funds to colleges and universities, directly helping thousands of students impacted by the pandemic.
Selected institutions, like CCC, have spent funds reducing or eliminating tuition, eliminating outstanding student balances, addressing food insecurity by supporting food pantries, creating zero-cost textbook program, and covering costs of evidence-based practices to monitor and suppress the spread of COVID-19.
Gene Sperling shared that the three institutions that participated in the press call all made exemplary actions, making the best use of APR funds in support of students.
"I want to make one point. The three community colleges that we have on (today's press call) were not chosen at random," said Sperling. "They were what we consider among the best practices among the (grant) winners."
In this final disbursement, awardee institutions had to submit how they used ARP funds and how the use of those funds positively impacted students and their success. From that information, grants were awarded.
"I really want to recognize why these three institutions are on this call. It is because we thought they were among the very best model practices of the winners that we have," added Sperling.
CCC President Dr. Valmadge T. Towner gave thanks for the support given to his institution and shared that the actions aided CCC in its ultimate goal of student success.
"Our college and students of today are unable to authentically sing the Blues in large part because of the positive impact and good news that the American Rescue Plan has made with our students and college," Towner shared lightly, referencing the musical history of the area. "Without ARP, we are certain that many of our talented students and faculty would have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, which officially arrived on our campus in March of 2020 and caused our college to shut down and venture into virtual mode."
In a statement by the U.S. Department of Education, the Biden-Harris Administration remains committed to ensuring recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement highlights the Administration's commitment to supporting the nation's most under-resourced institutions in preventing, preparing for, and responding to the pandemic.
Because of COVID-era funding, CCC has assisted over 4,500 students over the past 24 months, surpassing a cumulative sum of over $6 million. Which also equals to well over $1,500 of direct assistance to individual students.
"As a result of ARP, we have provided assistance to students collectively by helping students persist when their balances have been cleared with ARP funds. We have removed or reduced online fees associated with tuition. In a region of the country that has internet broadband challenges, we have provided access to Wi-Fi for students in the form of hot spots, and we have created access to Wi-Fi in several Public areas in our communities for students to use," Towner added.
The impacts of these funds have had immediate effects on the CCC campus. In a time when higher ed funding can be uncertain, legislation like this has enabled Coahoma to support its students during this unprecedented time.
"ARP, CARES, and HEERF resources enabled us to cover gaps and provide a safety net for individual students attending Coahoma as well as provided the same for the institution itself," Towner shared.
Coahoma plans on continuing its effort to best serve its students with the newly-awarded funds.
For more information on HEERF under the American Rescue Plan, visit https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/arp.html.