HEERF Funds Help Community Colleges, But Need to be Used ASAP

By: Sarah Roberts



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Enrollment in higher education institutions is down across the board, but community colleges have seen their numbers drop most significantly. Compared to 2019, enrollment at community colleges declined 15%. This problem impacts the US labor market because many of its 11 million open jobs are in construction and manufacturing. Graduates from community colleges are the ones filling these positions. 

The government addressed colleges’ need for assistance with the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). Community colleges have been greatly relying on this assistance, as have their students. However, before the Coronavirus Aid and Economic Security Act (CARES), the first of three HEERF funds, expires at the end of 2021, school leaders need to find ways to use these helpful resources that offer long-term benefits.

Challenges that Community College Students Face

Community college students face significant obstacles when pursuing their education. Close to 40% come from families with an income of around $20,000. Many are the first in their family to attend college, 15% are single parents and their average age is 28. 

Clearly, these students’ needs for assistance are great, and the HEERF plans present ways to reduce the burden. Here are some of the top ways community colleges are allocating HEERF resources.

a group of college students talking happily outdoors

Intelligent Ways Community Colleges Are Using HEERF 

Many community colleges are making good use of HEERF funds. Much of the money goes directly to students to help them fund their education and stay in school. However, here are some other ways schools are using the emergency funds to improve student experiences. 

Efficient Education Planning

When students start their education, they may struggle to find a clear path to graduation. This situation can become more complicated when students must schedule their courses around work and family obligations. Software that maps the quickest plan to graduation helps students’ goals become clear and attainable. Also, these resources free up time with counselors who can then focus more on larger career goals and strategies. 

Creating Smart Classrooms that Support Hybrid Education

Students are returning to in-person courses, but distance and hybrid learning still offer much-needed flexibility. Not always having to commute to and from campus saves precious time for single parents and working students. Outfitting smart classrooms and investing in recording equipment allows instructors to create engaging, flexible learning options. 

a woman sitting on a chair using a laptop

Purchasing Extra Equipment

Many community college courses need to occur in person because students must learn how to use large machinery. Some schools purchased extra equipment so that students could socially distance rather than pairing up on equipment. Offering more equipment proved helpful in accelerating learning because students had more chances to use the tools and practice. Those benefits will extend long after any social distancing mandates. 

Financial Coaches for Students

Loan options can be intimidating and cost-conscious students rightfully fear taking on too much debt. Financial coaches can help students develop optimal plans for funding their education. However, when community colleges lack the resources to pay these professionals for their services, students often end up facing long waits before hearing back from an advisor. Better coaching can help community colleges work with students to develop plans that make them feel confident.

Accessibility and Mental Health Solutions

Surveys indicate a strong preference for a whole student approach to education. Not only do schools need to offer accessibility tools for students with disabilities, but they should be doing more to proactively meet their needs. Whether classes are in person or online, captioning content, including lectures and videos, will offer much-needed access for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Using a captioning solution like Verbit will also help those who speak English as a second language or have ADHD. Addtionally, providing mental health support is incredibly important, especially given students’ stress factors over the last couple of years.

a man smiling while using his laptop that is placed on island kitchen top

Internships and Career Training

The most important factor for today’s students is career readiness. The uncertainty caused by the pandemic has made more people hyper-focused on gaining real-world skills. If students are going to invest time and money into their education, they will want to know that it is preparing them for success. Community colleges are excellent places for students to learn the skills needed to obtain good jobs. Some of these institutions invested in work-study and internship programs to prepare their students for the workforce. Students who participated in those programs had higher graduation rates, indicating such initiatives’ success.

HEERF Funds will Expire Soon

While the Coronavirus Aid and Economic Security Act (CARES), the first of three HEERF funds, expires at the end of 2021, two other funds exist. If a school qualifies for CARES, it likely does for the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)

Schools can use funds from the CRRSAA retroactively to cover pandemic-related costs dating back to March of 2020 and in the future until September 30, 2023. Funds from the ARPA extend until December 21, 2024. Institutions have used little of this money thus far and should be finding ways to promote long-term educational benefits by leveraging these assets before it’s too late. 

Technology has offered solutions to many pandemic-related education challenges. As a result, all three acts permit the use of funds to purchase technology, including software like Verbit, which improves student learning experiences.

Verbit supports accessibility efforts at higher education institutions and community colleges around the world. Contact us to learn more about our captioning, transcription and audio description services.