In March of 2020, the federal government passed Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. The HEERF fund was intended to help institutions of higher education react to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing $14 billion in relief. Under HEERF, institutions were required to spend 50% of awarded funds on student grants to help defray the costs of the pandemic, with the remaining 50% available for the institution to spend on allowable expenses.
In December 2020, additional funding was authorized as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA). Dubbed HEERF II, the new funding amounts to $21.2 billion. HEERF II requires institutions to spend the same amount of money on student grants as they spent under the CARES Act, rather than 50% of the funds awarded as with the original HEERF.
Essentially, HEERF II is intended to help students and institutions respond to and recover from the pandemic both financially and in terms of personnel, support, and technology. Because the primary response to the pandemic by educational institutions at all levels has been to adopt distance learning methods, that has been a specific focus of the fund.
We’re going to focus in this article on the institutional portion of HEERF II. Allowable expenses that institutions can allocate HEERF II funds to cover include those directly related to COVID-19:
- Expenses and lost revenue already experienced due to the pandemic
- The costs of technology required to transition to distance education
- Training for faculty and staff
- Faculty and staff payroll expenses
- Activities supporting students as authorized by the Health Education Act of 1965 (HEA)
- Additional student grants
Institutions that received funding under the CARES Act do not need to apply for HEERF II funds, while those that did not will need to apply for funding. Note that most HEERF II funds are intended for non-profit institutions. Proprietary, for-profit institutions have only $681 million allocated to them, and 100% of that money must be spent on student grants.
This has been just a cursory introduction to the fund. For more detailed information about HEERF II, you can visit the following sites:
- US Department of Education HEERF II overview
- US Department of Education HEERF II Institutional Portion overview
- National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) reference page
- NASFAA HEERF comparison chart
How can institutions utilize HEERF II?
As outlined above, there is a wide range of ways that higher education institutions can utilize resources allocated to them by HEERF II. We’re going to focus on distance learning, because that’s where technology plays its most important part.
There are numerous examples of products and services that institutions might utilize in adopting distance learning. It’s likely that many instructors are working remotely along with their students, and so there’s a wide range of technologies that an institution might provide to make their educational efforts more efficient and effective.
For example, an institution might provide laptops to instructors who do not already have sufficient equipment. If their home internet infrastructure isn’t up to snuff, then the institution might provide better modems and wireless routers along with faster internet access. Because video conferencing solutions like Zoom have taken on tremendous importance in connecting remote workers — like instructors and students — then institutions might provide improved webcams and microphones to ensure quality experiences.
Of course, there are other, non-hardware needs for which HEERF II funds can be used. As mentioned above, improved internet access is one, as are licenses for enhanced versions of the video conferencing tools that have become so important. Instructors might need technical support to configure their new infrastructure that goes beyond that provided by the institution, and those resources can be paid for by HEERF II funds as well.
Then there’s training. Instructors might have never used resources like Zoom, and specifically in using tools like these to provide instruction. HEERF II funds can help defray the costs of whatever training individual instructors need to become proficient at engaging in remote teaching.
Finally, many instructors likely put in extra time to prepare for and manage distance learning. HEERF II funds can help offset overtime and other additional personnel costs.
HEERF II funds couldn’t have come at a better time to help institutions of higher learning meet their charters to provide the best educational experiences possible. Distance learning has been a necessity during the pandemic, and in fact, it’s rather remarkable how quickly the educational system was able to shift from on-site education to distance learning.
Note that President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) act into law on March 11, 2021, which included additional funds for higher education institutions called, naturally enough, HEERF III. Coming in at around $40 billion, HEERF III works the same as HEERF I and HEERF II, with the additional requirement that a portion of the funds allocated to an institution be used for, among other things, implementing best practices for monitoring and suppressing the coronavirus.