Photo: Joshua Roberts / Getty
Higher education institutions spent nearly $1.5 billion to forgive past due balances, allowing Latinos, in particular, to be able to continue education. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty

Secretary of Education announces that more than 18 million students received HEERF since 2021

The U.S. Department of Education said that with HEERF, institutions spent nearly $1.5 billion to forgive past due balances.


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Earlier today, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona held a press conference to release how the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) has been able to provide financial aid to more than 18 million underrepresented students since the pandemic began in 2021.

Cardona discussed financial assistance for diverse schools: HBCUs, TCCUs, MSIs, and HSIs, stating that approximately 13 million students were helped, including 80% low income Pell-Grant recipients. Also, more than 1,400 higher education institutions spent nearly $1.5 billion to forgive past due balances—allowing Latinos, in particular, to be able to continue education thanks to HEERF. 

According to a Department of Education report released yesterday, approximately 3 in 4 institutions indicated that HEERF allowed them to maintain pre-pandemic tuition fees and more than 2 in 3 institutions were able to keep faculty, staff, employees, and contractors with HEERF funds. 

Dr. José Luis Cruz Rivera, President of Northern Arizona University said in the press conference that HEERF funds helped expand counseling, mental health assistance, provide emergency assistance funds to enable academic pursuit and cancel preexisting delinquencies. Also, provide students technological equipment and improve distance learning capabilities. 

Dr. Cruz Rivera also mentioned that these funds allowed for the university’s biggest enrollment in history (number not disclosed). 

During 2021, nearly 6 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 Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCCUs), and nearly 8 million students in Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), including those that serve Hispanic (HSIs).

The detailed report shows that in the same year, 12.7 million students received HEERF funds to cover tuition and additional expenses. 

“Today’s report makes it clear that funds delivered by President Biden through the American Rescue Plan Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund made it possible to keep millions of college students enrolled and on track during the pandemic,” said Cardona. “The positive impact of the investments of the Biden-Harris Administration cannot be underestimated, especially for students in the communities most affected by the pandemic, including those of color and urban and rural low income. As I travel the country, I'm glad to hear how the American Rescue Plan has helped students stay enrolled, and how the same plan has improved support for students, including debt forgiveness, addressing food and housing insecurity, expand mental health supports and much more.”

HEERF funds allowed 94% of community colleges to keep students enrolled during 2021. 

At the end of the conference, AL DIA questioned how long the HEERF will be available, to which the secretary responded that the higher education institutions have used approximately 90% of the funds and it is expected that by mid-June, the entire budget will be used. 

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Philadelphia was allocated $1.4 billion in raw American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds which must be used by December 2024. 

The investments for this year are $390 million in education, $208 million to reduce and prevent violence, $12.3 million for homeless services, $4 million to combat illegal dumping, and $275,000 for racial equity training. 

For example, the University of Pennsylvania was awarded $40.3 million in HEERF, including $14.6 million from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) and $25.74 million from ARP. 

As of March 2022, UPenn reports using $4,953,842 in emergency student grants from CRRSAA and approximately $16M from ARP, for a total of approximately $21 million. 

Eligible students were able to request up to $1,500 depending on financial need. 

However, Widener University was eligible to receive $4,033,738 to be used for Emergency Financial Aid Grants— of which $4,001,964 has been used since December 31, 2022—a total of 5,544 students have received emergency funding at Widener University.


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