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Student-Ready Relief: Using emergency funds to promote student success

Throughout the pandemic, federal leaders have recognized the unique challenges facing higher education. Campuses were forced into the virtual space for instruction and advising. Financial insecurity and concerns about health and safety led to substantial enrollment declines. Students facing hardships needed more support to succeed academically, but at the same time, it became harder to connect with students and provide them with the necessary resources.

The federal response has been swift and thoughtful. Three separate COVID relief packages allocated funding to colleges and universities through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). This funding provides flexibility for postsecondary institutions to design a relief approach that works best for their students, while embracing an important concept - that direct aid to students must be coupled with internal work at the institution, such as training and technology upgrades. The Biden Administration’s proposed American Families Plan, if enacted, would make an even greater investment in higher education, specifically community colleges and minority-serving institutions, with an intentional focus on student outcomes.


The flexible nature of the federal funding, while welcomed, poses a challenge for postsecondary leaders looking for guidance to help prioritize among the myriad potential uses. Which investments will be the most meaningful for students? What can be done with the funding to permanently improve student outcomes, even when the pandemic has passed? How should direct aid, support programs, and training be designed to ensure they dismantle long-standing inequities rather than exacerbate them?


In response to these important questions, Student-Ready Strategies has released a series of six single-page briefs, each focused on a specific, evidence-based solution that institutions should consider enacting using their current or future HEERF dollars. Each brief explains the solution, how it addresses the challenges of the pandemic, and how it can be designed in an equitable way. The briefs can be found here.


Some of the briefs will address things like student financial aid communication and emergency grants, which are explicitly called for in the funding requirements. Others are intended to introduce new ideas and creative thinking about how HEERF could be best applied to fuel long-lasting transformation in American higher education. Ultimately, we hope that these briefs serve as conversation starters and keep the national focus on achieving educational and economic equity, now and in the future.



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