Congress Provided $30 Billion in Emergency Student Aid, What Have We Learned?


In early 2020, colleges closed campus housing, students were sent home or sometimes homeless, and the shift to online learning as the closures led to a massive change in how the Higher Education. These changes also left many students without the jobs they had counted on to make ends meet, since with no one on campus, work-study jobs disappeared, as did off-campus jobs in restaurants and the grocery store. detail.

In response, the federal government provided more than $30 billion in emergency relief funds to support students in need of additional financial support. Lessons learned from how these funds have helped students improve emergency relief programs and underscore the need for more emergency relief support.

New research from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), National Association of Student Affairs Administrators (NASPA) and HCM Strategists shows that emergency aid provided to students during the height of the COVID pandemic -19 reduced stress and helped alleviate issues like food and housing insecurity. The research also argues that lessons learned from delivering large-scale emergency aid for the first time can help improve how similar aid is designed and delivered in the future.

The three organizations surveyed more than 17,000 students at colleges and universities nationwide to better understand how to receive emergency aid from one of three cycles of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). helped students at the height of the pandemic.

Emergency financial aid for students is not new. Many colleges and universities have offered small emergency grant programs for years. These programs have helped students deal with financial crises like car repairs, hospital bills, and things like diapers and formula for student parents. Generally, emergency assistance is designed to supplement traditional financial assistance, not to replace it. College emergency aid programs were not designed to address the massive and unexpected financial needs arising from the pandemic.

Students surveyed said they used emergency funds to cover basic needs like food and housing and to pay for books and transportation costs. Nearly two-thirds of students said they had lost their jobs or had their hours reduced due to the pandemic, so it’s no surprise they found it necessary to use emergency funds to cover basic expenses. .

A majority of students also said the amount they received helped them stay enrolled and maintain their grades, as the emergency aid reduced stress for students who received support. More than 40% of students said emergency funding allowed them to borrow less in student loans, another common stress point for students. .

The report provides suggestions on how emergency assistance can be improved based on lessons learned from the successes and challenges of administering HEERF funds. Recommendations include providing as much flexibility as possible for emergency funds, ensuring that institutions that support students who need it most get additional financial support, and changing regulations so that the emergency aid is not counted in regular student financial aid programs. The report also calls on Congress to develop a permanent emergency relief fund.

One of the biggest challenges with administering emergency assistance programs prior to the COVID-19 pandemic was that due to federal financial assistance regulations, emergency assistance was treated the same as other types of financial assistance. Students cannot receive financial aid greater than the cost of attending university, including tuition, room and board, transportation, books, and personal expenses. These things are collectively known as the cost of participation.

Suppose a student’s college costs $20,000 to attend, but he has already received $20,000 in grants and loans for the year under federal regulations. In this case, there is no room to provide this student with additional support in an emergency. These restrictions make it more difficult for schools to administer emergency aid. There are workarounds, but they require time-consuming appeal processes.

HEERF funds were not subject to the same rules as college-run emergency aid funds, allowing students to be helped more quickly and without worrying about whether they had already used financial aid up to their tuition fees. These are changes that should apply to all emergency assistance programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted higher education in many ways, but the attention to the importance of emergency aid for students is a positive. It is clear that when deployed effectively, emergency aid has a positive impact on the well-being and academic success of students. Congress can support student success by facilitating the administration of emergency assistance programs and supporting them with federal funds.


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