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American Rescue Plan Helped Keep College Students In School

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education released new data estimating that more than 18 million students have received direct financial aid under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) since the start of 2021.

Over that period, nearly six million community college students received direct financial aid, along with more than 450,000 students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), more than 24,000 students at Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs), and nearly eight million students at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), such as Hispanic Serving Institutions.

The new data shows that these funds helped millions of students remain in school, kept costs down so students could stay enrolled, and helped keep faculty and staff employed.

The Department also released a detailed report showing that in 2021 alone, 12.7 million students received direct financial aid grants from HEERF funds, which served as a critical lifeline to these students. According to the report, 94 percent of community colleges said HEERF allowed them to keep students enrolled who were at risk of dropping out by providing financial support in 2021.

“Today’s report makes clear that, for millions of college students, the financial lifelines delivered by President Biden through the American Rescue Plan’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund are what made it possible to stay enrolled and on track during the pandemic,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said. “The positive impact of the Biden-Harris Administration’s investments cannot be overstated, especially for students from the communities hit hardest by the pandemic, including our communities of color and low-income urban and rural communities. As I travel the country, I’ve been heartened to hear from students on how the American Rescue Plan helped them stay enrolled and from colleges and universities who said American Rescue Plan funds have helped raise the bar in how they support students, from forgiving debts, to addressing food and housing insecurity, to expanding mental health supports, and so much more.”

Institutions of higher education are required to submit annual reports to the Department detailing how HEERF has been used to support their institutions, students and communities. The Department used that data and 2022 spending to estimate the overall impact of HEERF funds.

The Department used the 2021 annual report data to identify key findings and state-specific impact data from the HEERF program. In 2021 alone, HEERF funds:

Helped students afford basic needs and remain enrolled in school. In 2021, institutions distributed $19.5 billion in Emergency Financial Aid Grants to 12.7 million students, including 80 percent of Pell Grant recipients.  Approximately nine in 10 institutions reported that HEERF enabled them to keep students enrolled who were at risk of dropping out due to pandemic-related factors.

Kept student costs down, including reducing unpaid balances owed to the institution. Roughly three out of four institutions indicated that HEERF enabled them to keep student net prices similar to pre-pandemic levels. More than 1,400 institutions spent nearly $1.5 billion on discharging unpaid student balances.

Kept colleges open and faculty and staff employed. More than two in three institutions indicated that HEERF allowed them to keep faculty, staff, employees, and contractors at full salary levels.

Helped slow the spread of the pandemic. Nearly three in four institutions stated that HEERF enabled them to purchase COVID tests, provide health screenings, and provide the healthcare necessary to help support students, faculty, and staff.

The Department remains committed to providing support, resources, and guidance to institutions, students, and communities. The 2021 Annual Report illustrates how HEERF grants provided institutions and students the necessary resources to navigate responding to and recovering from the pandemic.