Biden Administration Announces Additional $198M in COVID Relief for Colleges

The American Rescue Plan funds will prioritize community colleges and rural institutions serving low-income students.

Published January 20, 2022

Edited by Alex Pasquariello
Biden Administration Announces Additional $198M in COVID Relief for Colleges
COVID-19 Higher Ed Policy
Photo by Bloomberg / Contributor / Bloomberg / Getty Images

  • The Department of Education recommends schools use funds to mitigate the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.
  • Schools may also use funds to provide direct aid to students.
  • Funds are scheduled to be awarded by late spring.

The Department of Education (ED) will distribute another $198 million in American Rescue Plan funds to colleges and universities to support struggling students and stem the spread of COVID-19.

ED said in a statement that the department will prioritize community colleges and rural institutions serving a high percentage of low-income students when awarding these funds. It will also target schools that have seen decreased enrollment since the start of the pandemic.

ED said in its statement that the money to reach schools near the end of spring.

Additionally, the department updated its guidance on how schools should spend their money from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) to meet students' needs.

ED recommends that schools use their HEERF funds to:

  • Support students with childcare needs by expanding capacity of on-campus childcare centers or subsidizing childcare costs for students.
  • Aid students experiencing food insecurity through meal vouchers, expanded food pantries, and universal meal programs.
  • Lighten the transportation burden by covering the cost of public transportation for students or provide free/discounted parking on campus.
  • Reduce academic costs like those for textbooks and tutoring through voucher programs.
  • Supplement housing costs for both on- and off-campus students experiencing housing insecurity.
  • Provide more healthcare and mental health services by expanding on-campus healthcare centers and mental health support services.

ED also encourages colleges and universities applying for HEERF grants to use their funds on:

  • COVID-19 mitigation efforts
  • Continued enrollment and re-enrollment efforts
  • Forgiving institutional debt held by students
  • Expanding programs that lead to in-demand jobs

Advocacy groups were quick to praise this move.

"Today’s students cannot succeed in school if they are hungry, homeless, or lack access to critical supports like child care and reliable transportation," Higher Learning Advocates said in a statement. "Today, the Biden-Harris Administration made a historic commitment to today’s students by enabling colleges and universities to use pandemic recovery funds to meet students’ critical needs."

The American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021, was a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill injected into many U.S. sectors to aid in pandemic recovery efforts. According to ED, the plan provided $40 billion to higher education institutions through HEERF. That includes $10 billion for community colleges.

This new round of grants that serves institutions experiencing enrollment declines is fitting. A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse found that freshman enrollment was down 9.2% in Fall 2021 compared to Fall 2019.