Federal emergency aid disbursed during the COVID-19 pandemic has helped students stay enrolled in classes, relieved stress and improved academic outcomes, according to a new report released today.
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators has partnered with NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and consulting firm HCM Strategists to survey students and institutions about COVID emergency stimulus funds -19 of higher education and hear lessons learned to inform future emergency aid programs. at the institutional, state and federal levels. The survey results have been published in a new report, “Assessing Student and Institutional Experiences with HEERF.”
“These funds have had a positive impact on students,” said Jill Desjean, senior policy analyst for NASFAA. “We found that they found the grant amounts to be significant enough to make a difference. They have found that the funds have reached them in a timely manner, and we have even seen students report that they enjoyed better results after receiving the HEERF friends. »
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the federal government has sent more than $76 billion to colleges and universities through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. About half of this sum was to be paid to students in the form of emergency aid grants, although half of the institutions surveyed exceeded this requirement.
NASFAA and its partners surveyed 18,000 students about emergency aid as well as 321 institutions. More than half of students reported receiving emergency financial aid, ranging from $1,000 to $2,000. The majority used the money to pay for food, books and housing, while a third invested the funds in tuition, technology, internet services or utilities.
Forty-one percent of students said they borrowed less money in student loans with the aid and that the money enabled them to reduce the number of hours they worked.
Those who did not receive any help said they were unaware that help was available and did not know the process for applying for help. Those who applied and were refused said in the survey that they did not know why their application was rejected.
Responses among different demographic groups were not significantly different, according to the report.
Congress initially stipulated that student money could only be used for COVID-19-related expenses, which Desjean said was “unnecessarily limiting.” In later relief bills, lawmakers gave colleges and universities more flexibility in disbursing aid.
Those changes helped, Desjean said.
Ninety-three percent of institutions surveyed said the increased flexibility was broad enough to meet student needs most or all of the time. That’s an improvement from NASFAA’s 2020 survey, when 73% of institutions said aid was able to meet student needs most or all of the time.
The U.S. Department of Education’s handling of stimulus funds has improved with each funding round, the institutions said in the survey.
Ninety percent of institutions surveyed said department orientation at graduate and postgraduate level was somewhat or very organized, while only 11% found undergraduate orientation to be organized.
Desjean said NASFAA wanted to compare the three funding rounds after releasing a report in 2020 on implementation issues with the first round.
“What we learned more than anything is that you have to be very careful in designing a program like this to make sure it works well,” Desjean said.
The report includes considerations for institutional decision makers as well as state and federal legislators to take into account when setting up emergency relief programs. These include prioritizing awareness of student needs and improving communication with students about the availability of funds.
NASFAA has suggested that a federal emergency aid program should have broad authorized uses for aid and ensure that institutions serving students with the greatest needs have adequate resources to meet those needs.
“HEERF has definitely just opened the door for institutions to realize how many emergencies arise for students and how important it is for them to have access to quick funds to stay enrolled in school,” Desjean said. “I think some of the positive outcomes they’ve seen in students who have received HEERF scholarships versus those who haven’t will show them that emergency funding promotes positive student outcomes and helps students to complete their university studies.
Many colleges and universities have some form of emergency funding programs, but these funds tend to “serve a fraction of the student body with small, one-time amounts,” according to the report.
Some institutions reported improving existing aid programs using lessons learned from the disbursement of HEERF emergency grants.
“This included streamlining application processes, speeding up approval times, strengthening communications with students, and developing resources to meet basic needs,” the report said.
A federal emergency aid program could fill the financial gaps of colleges and universities with fewer resources and improve student outcomes, the report suggests.
“The HEERF Student Emergency Bursary program served effectively as a large-scale experiment for a federal emergency assistance program,” the report said. “Lessons learned from administering the three funding cycles – what worked, what didn’t work, and improvements made along the way – provide valuable insight into how a federal aid program can emergency should be designed.”