Today, institutions are flush with billions in funding from the federal government’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), creating unique opportunities and challenges when it comes to the distribution of emergency aid to students. But as the dust settles and institutions chart a path back to normalcy, we’ll also need to prepare for a future with scarcer resources—even though the role of emergency aid in boosting retention, completion, and student success will be no less crucial.
Can the lessons of HEERF distribution provide any insight for a changing future—and help institutions navigate the role of emergency aid moving forward?
The answer, it turns out, is that there’s a lot we can learn from what went right – and wrong – with HEERF distribution that will apply in an environment with scarcer resources. But it’s just as important to understand the similarities as the differences. Below, we’ve teased out what lessons from HEERF should remain consistent—and which ones will need to change to meet a new landscape of higher education funding.
The most salient takeaways from HEERF are well-summarized in a recent report from NASFAA (the national association of financial aid administrators), NASPA (the national association of student personnel administrators), and the research organization MDRC. Among the most important lessons highlighted from those organizations’ research include:
These are useful learnings for times like these, when federal funding is plentiful and student need is extreme. But we’ve been calling the past year an “unprecedented time” for a reason. How should institutions think about emergency aid distribution when resources are more scarce?
A few lessons from our own experience may help colleges and universities navigate aid distribution in the coming months:
Perhaps most importantly of all, it’s important to remember that we’re likely at the beginning of a roller coaster. While federal funds are plentiful now and may not be so later, the possibility of more stimulus packages – whether for COVID variants, climate events, or other unexpected crises – may still be on the horizon. The institutions that understand how to navigate emergency aid distribution during times of both plenty and scarcity will be the best-prepared to provide students with the support they need to persist no matter the circumstances.
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