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APLU Analysis Finds Pandemic Relief Funding Delivered Critical Relief to Students & Public Universities

Washington, DC – Federal emergency pandemic relief funding provided critical support to students and public universities amid a global public health emergency, according to a new analysis from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) released today. The analysis finds public research universities have spent the vast majority of federal pandemic relief funding they received to meet students’ basic needs, mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and shift to digital then hybrid instruction formats with unprecedented speed.

“The public research university community is extraordinarily grateful for emergency pandemic relief funding lawmakers provided the higher education community,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “We’re very pleased to see that public research universities have wisely used these resources to meet critical needs facing their students and campuses while slowing the spread of COVID-19.”

[Read the Analysis: HEERF Works: How Grants Have Supported Students at Public Research Universities]

The APLU analysis finds that public research universities have already spent nearly $14.5 billion or over 70 percent of HEERF grant dollars as of December 31, 2021. This includes the nearly $10 billion from the first two pandemic relief bills—the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, as well as a substantial portion of the third round of funding that came from the American Rescue Plan Act. Though the analysis examines spending prior to 2022, institutions have also used significant funding thus far in 2022 and have plans to provide further emergency relief in the months ahead.

From the time federal emergency aid was first distributed to campuses in spring 2020 through the end of 2021, APLU member campuses disbursed over $6.7 billion in emergency aid grants—nearly 80 percent of total funds received—to undergraduate and graduate students across the country.

“Due to coronavirus, my father has experienced reduced hours at work, as well as my mother being furloughed, leading to financial hardships with covering my expenses such as rent, food, and textbooks for my courses,” one University of Florida student wrote when applying for emergency support. Another student shared: “my entire family and I caught the virus and required my mother and I to take off excessive days of work off and unfortunately miss many payments because of it.” Emergency grant aid helped fill in some of the financial gaps students faced as the pandemic impacted both the health of students and their families as well as their work.

The funding provided a lifeline to institutions, too. Federal support helped defray some of the unprecedented costs institutions incurred as a result of the pandemic, including reimbursements to students and COVID-19 public health costs. The analysis spotlights examples of how institutions used institutional funding to support student success, including:

  • Supporting students through investments in technology;
  • Addressing student mental health needs on campus;
  • Funding food and housing initiatives;
  • Investing in student success and completion; and
  • Directing additional aid to students and providing debt forgiveness.

Looking ahead to the remainder of the year, public research universities will expend the vast majority of HEERF grant dollars as they continue to address the ongoing impact of the pandemic on students and campus communities.

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