The three rounds of COVID-19 relief funds for higher education adopted by Congress in 2020 and early 2021 have had a “significant impact on students and institutions” and made a “huge difference,” said Wednesday to lawmakers the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education, James Kvaal.
The House Education and Labor Committee held a subcommittee hearing to monitor how institutions used the $ 76 billion invested in the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). Kvaal said the funds are helping students stay enrolled in university, helping institutions meet public health needs and avoid mass layoffs, and preventing some private and public nonprofit colleges from closing.
“HEERF has had a real impact on students, on their colleges,” Kvaal said. “For example, I recently received a letter from President Daniel Phelan of Jackson College in Michigan describing how HEERF has helped pay for student tuition, food, accommodation, course materials, medical care and mental health and child care. “
A recent American Council on Education survey of 400 college presidents found that HEERF funds enabled 93% of colleges to offer emergency scholarships to students, 88% of colleges to buy COVID-19 testing and other public health needs, 80% of colleges to provide students with electronic devices and Internet access to keep them enrolled, 70% of colleges to continue to employ faculty and staff staff at risk of unemployment, and 18% of colleges at risk of closing in order to continue operating.
At least half of HEERF funds provided to institutions were to be used for emergency student aid. Kvaal noted that more than seven million students were able to take advantage of $ 6 billion in emergency aid, with each student receiving an average of $ 850.
As of Friday, colleges had spent 65% of their total HEERF student funds and 54% of their total HEERF institutional funds. These percentages continue to increase each week and do not include commitments that colleges and universities have already made for their remaining HEERF dollars but have not yet used, Kvaal said.
Several lawmakers have expressed concerns about how the ministry ensures that institutions use funds for their intended purposes, as prescribed by law.
“The investments we have made in colleges and universities have provided a lifeline for students and may have prevented the financial collapse of our higher education system,” said Representative Frederica Wilson, Democrat of Florida and President of the Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee. “The Department of Education must continue to ensure that institutions use this funding responsibly to support their students, faculty and staff, and that states respect their end of the bargain by maintaining their investments in education.” superior. “
Senior Republican on the Higher Education Subcommittee, Representative Greg Murphy of North Carolina, said that as recipients of public funds, higher education institutions are not exempt from oversight and oversight. responsibility of Congress, because taxpayers deserve to know how these funds are spent.
“It is the responsibility of Congress and this department to ensure that colleges and universities spend tax dollars in a way that helps students – not hire more administrators or develop more programs.” non-academics – that’s why I’m glad we’re having this hearing today, ”says Murphy. “Unfortunately, however, I share the concern of many of my colleagues that the ministry is too focused on implementing their progressive wishlist and attacking colleges based on their tax status to perform their necessary oversight. “
According to Kvaal, the department has taken steps to ensure the proper use of HEERF funds by issuing clear and comprehensive guidelines; creating quarterly and annual reporting requirements; work with the Office of Management and Budget to designate funds as high risk so that they are prioritized by auditors; imposing additional oversight for colleges that present “financial risk” – otherwise known as “Increased Cash Tracker 2”; impose additional audit requirements on beneficiaries who were not otherwise required to perform audits; and requiring for-profit college presidents and principal owners to sign certification forms indicating that they are aware of all fund requirements.
“We have worked very hard to ensure that all colleges spend funds within the permitted uses outlined by Congress,” Kvaal said.