Colleges will receive an additional $198M in federal coronavirus aid

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Education said Thursday it will send another $198 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to colleges with significant unmet need amid the pandemic. 
  • With the new round of funding, the Biden administration will prioritize community colleges and institutions in rural areas with many low-income students that have experienced falling enrollment during the pandemic.
  • The department also shared guidance for how colleges can use previous infusions of federal aid to assist struggling students. Legislation passed in March, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, dedicated $40 billion to higher education, with about half earmarked for students affected by the pandemic. The new guidance suggests ways to use the institutional portion of this funding to help students facing housing, food and child care challenges.

Dive Insight:

Since the pandemic began, the federal government has distributed tens of billions of dollars to colleges through several aid packages, which helped them defray coronavirus-related costs and pass money on to students the pandemic hurt financially. 

Higher ed has benefited from federal relief indirectly, too. 

Aid to local and state governments helped insulate their budgets, shielding public institutions from steep funding cuts. And states have used their funding shares to enact tuition-free programs or invest in capital projects, a trend that is expected to continue. 

The new pool of available money announced Thursday also comes from the American Rescue Plan. The department will start accepting applications next week for the $198 million in grant funding, which will be allocated late this spring. 

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona signaled the department wants colleges to use federal money to lift up students from economic hardship. Students across the U.S. told him of the same problems — that the pandemic exacerbated their ability to meet their basic needs, he said in a statement.

Cardona and First Lady Jill Biden highlighted the funding during a visit Thursday to Bergen Community College in New Jersey. The Education Department noted the community college used federal pandemic aid to subsidize its on-campus Child Development Center.

The added money “will be critical to ensuring that students can persist and successfully complete their degree programs without having to worry about where their next meal will come from or whether they will be able to find childcare for their children,” Cardona said in a statement.

The department also said it awarded $5 million in grants to six community colleges that serve high shares of Hispanic students. And it said it is sending a letter to all public and private colleges reminding them they can use Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data to link students with other public benefits, such as food subsidies.

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